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Thursday Morning Business Brief

February 20, 2014, 5:33 AM

Thursday Morning Business Brief

Some Federal Reserve policymakers appear willing to start raising short-term interest rates sooner than expected. That's spooking investors who haven't had to worry about increases for about five years. The stock market closed down yesterday after the Fed released the minutes from its January policy meeting. The Dow dropped about 90 points, the S&P fell 12 and the Nasdaq ended down 35 points. Futures point to a sluggish opening.

  • A contraction in Chinese manufacturing and the possibility of higher U.S. interest rates dragged international stock markets lower today. China's manufacturing tumbled to a seven-month low in February, according to the preliminary results of an HSBC survey of factory purchasing managers. Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell to just above $102.50 a barrel. The dollar fell against the yen and edged down against the euro.
  • Investors will be focused today on the government's weekly jobless claims report. But they can also gauge inflationary pressures by reviewing the Consumer Price Index for January. Also due out are reports on Freddie Mac's weekly mortgage rates and January's leading economic indicators from the Conference Board. Wal-Mart Stores will report earnings before the bell.
  • Japan's trade deficit surged to a monthly record of 2.8 trillion yen ($27.4 billion) in January as imports jumped 25 percent, underscoring the challenge the country faces in restoring export-driven growth. A weakening in the Japanese yen over the past year has failed to boost exports as much as hoped while imports of oil and gas, food and other products have surged. Consumers and businesses are thought to be stepping up purchases ahead of an April 1 sales tax hike.
  • China's manufacturing contracted for a second straight month in February as a mainstay of the world's No. 2 economy loses momentum amid government efforts to rein in credit and investment growth. The preliminary version of the HSBC Corp. purchasing managers' index fell to a seven-month low of 48.3 from January's 49.5 on a 100-point scale. Numbers below 50 show activity contracting.

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