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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.

Stock futures are pointing to flat to slightly higher trading at today's open, in a session that will be very much dominated by reaction to an exceptional heavy slate of corporate earnings. S&P 500 futures were up nearly half a percentage point early this morning, but have since given back some of those gains. Crude oil is hovering just above the fresh six-year lows struck Wednesday, and the Canadian dollar is dipping even further below the 80 cents (U.S.) level.

A wide spectrum of companies that help drive the U.S. economy - include energy giant ConocoPhillips, consumer products giant Colgate-Palmolive, automaker Ford, and tech colossus Google - are reporting fourth-quarter results today. A handful of Canadian names are out as well, including Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan and Rogers Communications. We have highlights on how the key reports have come in under our Stocks to Watch section below.

Coming into today, it's been a mixed earnings season, with beat rates largely in line with recent quarters after analysts heavily reduced estimates for energy stocks and those companies impacted by oil's collapse. About 77 percent of the S&P 500's 158 companies that have posted earnings this season prior to today beat analyst estimates, while 56 per cent have topped sales projections, according to Bloomberg data.

Equity markets reacted with disappointment on Wednesday to the Federal Reserve's latest policy statement, with the Dow losing 195 points and the TSX 231 points. The central bank's comments suggested a mid-year interest rate hike was still on the table - albeit very much subject to what the economy does in the meantime. And the economy could very much be influenced by falling energy prices, which should limit the inflationary pressures that would push the Fed into taking action.

In overseas markets, European stocks are relatively flat, with oil and gas stocks coming under additional pressure. Energy giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC announced it plans to cut capital expenditures by about $15-billion (U.S.) over the next three years. In Asia, the Shanghai composite index lost 1.3 per cent amid speculation that China's increased regulatory scrutiny of margin loans may reduce some investors to cut holdings in equities. The nation's securities regulator will soon be starting a new round of checks into the margin-lending businesses of brokerages, Bloomberg reported.

Now, here's a look at how some of the key earnings reports came in and what else is going on this morning.



S&P 500 +2 points; Dow +29 points; Nasdaq -1 points; S&P/TSX unchanged


Hong Kong's Hang Seng -1.07 per cent

Shanghai composite index -1.32 per cent

Japan's Nikkei -1.07 per cent

London's FTSE 100 -0.39 per cent

Germany's DAX +0.19 per cent

France's CAC 40 +0.22 per cent

Stoxx 600 +0.02 per cent


WTI crude oil (Nymex Mar) -0.02 per cent at $44.44 (U.S.) a barrel

Natural gas (Nymex Mar) +0.53 per cent at $2.86

Gold (Comex Apr) -1.38 per cent at $1,269.20 (U.S.) an ounce

Copper (Comex Mar) -2.02 per cent at $2.43 (U.S.) a pound


Canadian dollar at 79.69 (U.S.), down 0.0010

U.S. dollar index up 0.10 at 94.56


U.S. 10-year Treasury yield 1.74 per cent, up 0.02


U.S. initial jobless claims for last week were 265,000, below the 300,000 that was forecast and the 307,000 from the week previous. It was the lowest level for jobless claims since April of 2000.

(10 a.m. ET) U.S. pending home sales. Consensus is for a 0.5 per cent rise.


Ensign Energy Services announced late Wednesday a reduced capital budget of $220-million for 2015 compared with the previously forecast $340 million. In addition, the board and management have agreed to decreased salaries.

Bellatrix Exploration said that in response to continued volatility of oil and gas prices, it is planning only up to $200-million in capital spending this year, down from $300-million.

McDonald's shares are up 3 per cent in the premarket after announcing Wednesday that its CEO Don Thompson will step down and will be replaced by the fast food giant's chief brand officer.

Rogers Communications reported adjusted Q4 EPS 69 cents vs. the Street estimated 64 cents. It also raised its dividend. But it also saw a sharp decline in valuable wireless customers.

Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan reported Q4 EPS of 49 cents vs. estimates of 46 cents. It also said it will raise its dividend almost nine per cent in a sign of the company's confidence in future cash flow and demand for its fertilizer products. Its U.S. shares are up 0.7 per cent in the premarket.

Alibaba reported Q3 EPS of 81 cents, better than the Street estimated 75 cents, but sales of $4.22-billion were below the estimated $4.45-billion. Shares are down 6 per cent in the premarket. Yahoo, which has a minority stake in the Chinese search e-commerce giant, is down 5 per cent in sympathy.

Ford reported adjusted Q4 of 26 cents (U.S.) versus the expected 22 cents. Shares are up 2 per cent in premarket trading.

ConocoPhillips reported Q4 adjusted EPS of 60 cents (U.S.) vs. the estimated 58 cents. ConocoPhillips, which previously announced plans to cut 2015 spending by 20 percent in December, said it now expects to spend $11.5 billion, down from a prior projection of $13.5 billion.

Hershey reported Q4 adjusted EPS of $1.04 (U.S.) vs. the expected $1.06.

Occidental Petroleum reported Q4 core EPS of 72 cents (U.S.) vs. the estimated 68 cents.

Colgate-Palmolive reported adjusted Q4 EPS of 76 cents (U.S.) vs. the expected 74 cents.

Dow Chemical reported adjusted EPS of 85 cents (U.S.) vs. the expected 70 cents.

Abbot Laboratories reported Q4 adjusted EPS of 71 cents (U.S.) vs. the expected 69 cents.

Northrop Grumman forecast 2015 earnings above analysts' estimates and said order backlog increased 3 per cent.

Facebook shares are up 0.3 per cent in the premarket after late Wednesday reporting adjusted Q4 EPS of 54 cents, vs. expectations of 48 cents.

Other earnings today include: Canadian Oil Sands, RDM Corp., Rogers Sugar,  Tembec, Teranga Gold, Wi-LAN Inc., Abaxis Inc.,  Ally Financial Inc., Inc., Bancorp Inc., Blackstone Group, Callaway Golf Co., Cardinal Health Inc., Celgene Corp., Check Point Software Tech Ltd., Chubb Corp., Colgate-Palmolive Co., Deckers Outdoor Corp., Eastman Chemical Co., First Financial Bancorp, Google Inc., Harley-Davidson Inc. Hubbell Inc., Informatica Corp., Invesco Ltd., Investors Bancorp Inc., JDS Uniphase Corp., JetBlue Airways Corp., L-3 Communications, MB Financial Inc., NASDAQ OMX Group Inc., Penn National Gaming Inc., PMC-Sierra Inc., QLogic Corp., Quantum Corp., Raytheon, Robert Half International Inc., Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Royal Dutch Shell, Royal Gold Inc., Sherwin-Williams Co., Stanley Black & Decker Inc., Time Warner Cable Inc., Unisys Corp., Viacom Inc., Visa Inc., Whirlpool Corp., World Acceptance Corp.


Atlantic Equities downgraded Microsoft to "underweight" from "neutral" and cut its price target of $40 (U.S.) from $45.

Athabasca Oil was downgraded to "hold" from "buy" at Desjardins Securities. The target price is $2.50 (Canadian).

CGI Group was downgraded to "hold" from "buy" at Jefferies.  The target price is $48 (Canadian).

Husky Energy was downgraded to "hold" from "buy" at Desjardins Securities. The target price is $26 (Canadian).


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