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Still No Certainty on Greece, but the Chinese Help
15 Feb 2012 EST - CNBC.com

You may be sick of Greece and the European Union (I hear about it every day), but there is no doubt about its continuing grip on the markets.

When I took my wife out for a Valentine’s Day dinner last night, futures were at roughly 1,347. When I checked shortly after 10 p.m. ET, they had jumped to 1,357.

Ten points in a few hours? Huh? It was all on vague comments from the People Bank of China’s Governor Zhou Xiaochuan that China was willing to play a role in helping Europe out by buying euro zone government debt , similar to comments made by other Chinese officials in the past.

A teleconference of euro zone finance ministers is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET, but it’s still not clear what the Greeks will be delivering. Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told the BBC that there was agreement on cutting 325 million euros ($426 million) from defense, health, and local government budgets, along with the terms of the private sector (PSI) debt negotiations. We’ll see.

There are conflicting reports as to whether both main political parties have definitively signed an agreement to implement the austerity bill signed Sunday, regardless of the outcome of the elections.

If this is not confusing enough, there is a vague story floating around that Greek aid might be delayed, possibly until after the Greek elections in April, which makes little sense since they will run out of money before that. Will the EU or International Monetary Fund advance an emergency “bridge loan” to cover the 14.5 billion euro ($19 billion) debt payment due March 20?

It gets curiouser and curiouser.

Elsewhere:

Earnings season continues, with mixed results:

Owens Corning slumps 4.6 percent pre-open after the building materials maker posted weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter profit. Despite missing estimates, the company reported earnings of $0.40 per share ex-items, compared to a loss of $0.89 a share a year ago. Owens Corning’s fourth-quarter profit was helped by lower operating expenses, which were nearly cut in half to $142 million. The composites maker saw sales improve for its roofing and insulation materials last year despite a prolonged lag in the U.S. housing market.

Abercrombie & Fitch up pre-open on a roughly in-line quarter, even though the retailer’s fourth-quarter profit sank by 79 percent as margins suffered from markdowns and same-store sales struggled at its namesake brand. Abercrombie & Fitch reported fourth-quarter earnings of 22 cents a share, versus $1.03 per share a year ago. Excluding items, the company’s fourth-quarter earnings per share was $1.12, in line with expectations. Same-store sales were flat and gross margin narrowed to 56.1 percent from 63.6 percent on lower-than-anticipated sales. Abercrombie & Fitch updated its 2012 forecast, calling for earnings per share of $3.50-$3.75, above the Street’s $3.47 estimate.

Deere & Co. shares are down slightly pre-open after the farm equipment maker beat first-quarter earnings per share estimates by 6 cents and raised its forecast for the year. Deere, which rakes in one-third of its business from outside the U.S. and Canada, said strong equipment sales, especially abroad, boosted its quarterly earnings by 4 percent. The company raised its 2012 net income forecast to $3.275 billion from $3.2 billion and maintained its outlook of 15 percent sales growth.

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