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Premarket: Japan stocks rally, S&P 500 struggles to hit record Add to ...

The S&P 500 is just two points away from its record closing high, but index futures this morning suggest it may still be a struggle to get there.

Both S&P 500 and Dow futures are nearly unchanged, with overseas markets mixed. So far today, there's a lack of any fresh news that would be a major catalyst for a pullback - or a push higher.

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That could change as the day progresses and more economic reports are released. So far, the U.S. reported slightly higher-than-expected inflation and industrial production figures. Consumer sentiment figures are still on tap.

It's also worth noting that it's the so-called quadruple-witching day, the simultaneous expiration of index futures, index options, individual stock options and individual stock futures that occurs on the third Friday of March. Volumes tend to be higher than usual on such days, with an added dose of volatility.

It won't take much for the S&P 500 to enter the record books today and steal the spotlight from the Dow Jones industrial average, which has risen now for 10 straight days, including eight record closes. The highest close for the S&P 500 was 1,565.15 on Oct. 9, 2007, although the highest intraday level was 1,576.09, two days later.

Overnight, Japanese stocks were the star performer, with the Nikkei rising 1.45 per cent after Japan's political parties confirmed Haruhiko Kuroda as Bank of Japan governor. That suggests more stimulus measures lie ahead for the key Asian economy.

Now, here's a look at what else is going on this morning.

MARKETS:

Equities:

U.S. futures: S&P 500 0.0 per cent; Dow 0.0 per cent; Nasdaq 0.0 per cent

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index -0.38 per cent

Shanghai composite index +0.34 per cent

Japan's Nikkei +1.45 per cent

London’s FTSE 100 -0.31 per cent

Germany’s DAX +0.02 per cent

France's CAC 40 -0.43 per cent

Italy's FTSE MIB +0.24 per cent

Commodities:

WTI (Nymex May) +0.38 per cent at $93.73 (U.S.) a barrel

Gold (Comex Apr) +0.06 per cent at $1,591.60 (U.S.) an ounce

Copper (Comex May) +0.35 per cent at $3.55 (U.S.) a pound

Currencies:

Canadian dollar up 0.0016, or 0.16 per cent, at $0.9798 (U.S.)

ECONOMIC INDICATORS TO WATCH:

The U.S. Commerce Department said the consumer price index rose 0.7 per cent in February, the first increase in four months and the biggest since June 2009. Economists were expecting a rise of 0.5 per cent. But a surge in gasoline accounted for almost 75 per cent of last month's price increases.

The U.S. Federal Reserve Board said industrial production rose 0.7 per cent last month, beating expectations for a 0.3 per cent rise. Capacity utilization was 79.4 per cent, near forecasts.

(955 a.m. ET) Reuter's/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for February. Economists expected a reading of 77.5, slightly higher than February's reading of 77.6.

The Canadian Real Estate Association is also expected to report on existing home sales in February. Economists expect unit sales to be 12.5 per cent below year-earlier levels, and prices to drop 1 per cent.

STOCKS TO WATCH:

Bank of America Corp. is up 3.3 per cent in premarket trading after it received Federal Reserve approval late Thursday to buy back as much as $5-billion in stock. Other U.S. financials will also be in focus; late Thursday several of them announced plans to return money to shareholders following final stress test results from the Fed. BB&T and Ally Financial were the only two that failed the tests, although JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs & Co. were told to resubmit their share-distribution plans.

Carnival Corp., which was hit with more bad publicity this week after two more of its ships experienced technical difficulties, is due to report earnings.

THIS MORNING'S TOP INVESTING READS ON THE WEB:

This is no "irrational exuberance" for stocks, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan told CNBC, who said "by historical calculation, we are significantly undervalued.”

The 10-day winning streak in the Dow Jones industrial average has dramatically bolstered bullish sentiment among individual investors.

How the popular, high income-producing BMO Covered Call Canadian Banks ETF has performed relative to a normal bank ETF.

Five ways Warren Buffett invests that you don't.

Bill Gross's PIMCO Total Return ETF has performed smashingly well as it has grown to become the largest actively managed ETF. But don't expect that type of outperformance to continue.

Value stocks have made a comeback.

The two ways you can measure an ETF's performance.

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The premarket report is constantly updated to reflect the latest news developments and market moves. For instant headlines on breaking economic and corporate news in the premarket, follow Darcy Keith on Twitter at @eyeonequities

Follow on Twitter: @eyeonequities

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