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The Before the Bell report is updated throughout the premarket to reflect the latest news developments and market moves. Check back later for updates.

North American stock futures have extended early morning gains as the European Central Bank announced a quantitative easing program that will see the purchase of 60 billion euros a month in asset purchases. Dow futures were up more than 1 per cent in the immediately aftermath of the news, but have since retraced some of those gains, in volatile trade.

Purchases of government bonds will start in March 2015 and continue until September 2016. Mario Draghi is currently holding a news conference to discuss the actions. Earlier this morning, the ECB announced it is keeping its key interest rates unchanged, which was widely expected.

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The asset purchase program wasn't a surprise, but the size of the bond-buying purchases may be more aggressive than some were expecting. According to leaked reports Wednesday, the ECB's executive board was proposing bond purchases of about 50 billion euros a month for at least a year. Global stock and bond prices have been rising in recent sessions in anticipation of the move, with the TSX gaining 251 points on Wednesday alone. As such, some of the news no doubt has already been priced into markets. A full-scale asset purchase program has been opposed by Germany, which is concerned such action could slow the pace of reforms in heavily indebted nations.

The ECB kept its main lending rate unchanged at 0.05 per cent and a separate rate on overnight bank deposits parked with the central bank at minus 0.2 per cent, meaning banks must pay a fee to keep surplus funds at the ECB.

Meanwhile, a major deal has been announced by Royal Bank of Canada this morning. It has agreed to buy the U.S. bank City National in a deal worth $5.4-billion (U.S.). And Canadian Pacific Railway has beaten earnings expectations.

Here's a closer look at what's going on this morning.

MARKETS:

Futures:

S&P 500 +0.48 per cent; Dow +0.47 per cent; Nasdaq +0.38 per cent; S&P/TSX +0.62 per cent

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Equities:

Hong Kong's Hang Seng +0.70 per cent

Shanghai composite index +0.58 per cent

Japan's Nikkei +0.28 per cent

London's FTSE 100 +0.39 per cent

Germany's DAX -0.15 per cent

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France's CAC 40 unch

Stoxx 600 -0.03 per cent

Commodities:

WTI crude oil (Nymex Mar) +0.61 per cent at $48.07 (U.S.) a barrel

Natural gas (Nymex Mar) -1.36 per cent at $2.90

Gold (Comex Feb) +0.12 per cent at $1,294.90 (U.S.) an ounce

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Copper (Comex Mar) -1.59 per cent at $2.57 (U.S.) a pound

Currencies:

Canadian dollar at 80.80 (U.S.), down 0.0029

U.S. dollar index down 0.30 at 92.59

Bonds:

U.S. 10-year Treasury yield 1.91 per cent, up 0.03

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ECONOMIC INDICATORS:

U.S. jobless claims came in at 307,000 last week, above expectations for 300,000, but below the previous week's revised figure of 317,000.

(9 a.m. ET) FHFA house price index for the U.S. for November. It's expected to be up 4.8 per cent from a year ago.

STOCKS TO WATCH:

Royal Bank of Canada has agreed to buy the U.S. bank City National in a stock and cash deal worth $5.4-billion (U.S.). City National shares are up 22 per cent in the premarket.

Canadian Pacific Railway reported Q4 adjusted profit of $2.68 (Canadian) versus expectations of $2.56.

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Shares in BlackBerry are up 6 per cent in the premarket amid a Financial Post report saying Samsung Electronics is actively pursuing a plan to take over or buy a significant stake in BlackBerry. The company this week denied such a plan may be in the works.

Agrium has boosted its dividend payout goal to 40 per cent to 50 per cent of cash flow.

Iamgold has cut its capital budget by 30 per cent.

United Continental reported Q4 adjusted EPS of $1.20 (U.S.) versus estimates for $1.22.

Union Pacific reported Q4 EPS of $1.61 (U.S.) versus expectations for $1.52.

Verizon Communications reported revenue growth of 6.8 per cent, though shares fell 1 per cent in premarket trading.

American Express Co late Wednesday reported revenue growth of 6.6 per cent, though the credit card company also said it would cut more than 4,000 jobs this year as expenses and provisions for bad loans rose. Shares were down about 2 per cent in premarket trading.

F5 Networks shares are down 15 per cent in premarket trading after the network equipment maker reported revenue that missed expectations for the first time in eight quarters. It also forecast current-quarter revenue and profit below market estimates.

EBay rose 3 per cent before the opening bell, a day after it said it was exploring a sale or public offering of its enterprise unit, and announced an agreement with activist investor Carl Icahn that will give investors a greater say in its PayPal payments unit once it is spun off.

Other earnings today include: Alaska Air Group Inc., Altera Corp., Arctic Cat Inc., BankUnited Inc., Capital One Financial Corp., Celanese Corp., Consolidated Edison Inc., Cypress Semiconductor Corp., E*TRADE Financial Corp., Federated Investors Inc., Fairchild Semiconductor International Inc.

THIS MORNING'S TOP INVESTMENT READS ON THE WEB:

Taking ETF trades to the next level.

Where are top go-anywhere managers going?

You can still cash in on the collapse in crude oil.

Emerging-market stocks and currencies are luring global investors v for all the wrong reasons right now.

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Have feedback on our daily Before the Bell report and suggestions on how to make it more useful in your investing day? Please contact Inside the Market Editor Darcy Keith at dakeith@globeandmail.com.

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