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US STOCKS-Futures flat at 5-year highs, investors await earnings

Source : REUTERS
Last Updated: Tue, Jan 22, 2013 12:50 hrs

* DuPont posts drop in profit, Verizon impacted by Sandy

* J&J, Google and TI all on tap to report on Tuesday

* Obama begins second term, outlines aggressive agenda

* U.S. shares of RIM surge in premarket after CEO comments

* Futures: Dow down 8 pts, S&P up 0.3 pt, Nasdaq up 5 pts

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, Jan 22 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures were flat on Tuesday as investors held back from making large bets ahead of an onslaught of corporate earnings and after recently notching five-year highs.

Both the Dow and S&P 500 closed at their highest levels the earnings season. U.S. markets were closed on Monday for a public holiday.

Despite stronger-than-expected earnings results from major companies, including big banks, at the start of the quarterly reporting season, many investors are worried that other reports will reflect economic uncertainty in the fourth quarter.

"The market has been pleased with earnings thus far, and it is encouraging to see a cyclical company like DuPont show revenue strength, but I'm waiting on more tech and energy earnings until I come down one way or the other on this season," said Adam Sarhan, chief executive of Sarhan Capital in New York.

DuPont posted a steep drop in earnings on reduced demand for paint pigment, though revenue was ahead of expectations.

Verizon Communications Inc fell 1.1 percent to $42.06 in premarket trading after reporting a steep loss due to pension liabilities and charges related to superstorm Sandy that offset strength in its wireless business. Travelers Cos Inc also posted earnings that were hurt by losses related to Sandy.

DuPont, Verizon and Travelers are all Dow components, as is Johnson & Johnson, slated to report later Tuesday along with Google Inc and Texas Instruments. Tech earnings will be in particular focus after Intel Corp last week gave a revenue outlook that was below expectations.

Overall, S&P 500 fourth-quarter earnings are forecast to have risen 2.5 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data. That estimate is above the 1.9 percent forecast from a week ago but well below the 9.9 percent fourth-quarter earnings forecast from Oct. 1, the data showed.

S&P 500 futures rose 0.3 point but remained below fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 8 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 5 points.

Monday was a market holiday for Martin Luther King Day in the United States, and also marked the start of a second term for President Barack Obama, who called for aggressive action on climate change, economic equality and the federal budget.

"It remains a question whether Obama will be able to deliver on his agenda, but a sector like solar power companies could continue to be strong as he pushes for action," Sarhan said.

Markets have recently been pressured by uncertainty stemming from Washington about the federal debt limit and spending cuts that could hamper U.S. growth.

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives said they aim to pass on Wednesday a nearly four-month extension of the U.S. debt limit, allowing the government to borrow enough to meet its obligations during that period.

U.S. shares of Research in Motion jumped 8.9 percent to $17.25 in premarket trading after its chief executive said the company may consider strategic alliances with other companies after the launch of devices powered by RIM's new BlackBerry 10 operating system.

The Dow and S&P 500 closed at five-year highs on Friday as the market registered a third straight week of gains on a solid start to the quarterly earnings season, including from Morgan Stanley and General Electric Co.




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