Stocks Lower on Fresh Worries Over Europe; Oracle Earnings Lift Tech Stocks

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Stocks are lower at mid-day as concerns from across the pond dominate investor attention. Adding to the mix was the Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators, which logged the biggest gain in nine months.

Earlier in the day, Moody's downgraded Ireland's government-bond rating by five slots and said the country had a weak economic outlook.

U.S. November leading economic indicators rose 1.1%, the biggest gain since March, but only matching Street views. Nine of the 10 component indicators included in the index rose in November, with the largest positive contribution coming from the index of supplier deliveries. Building permits were the only negative contributor.

Also, lawmakers approved a two-year across-the-board extension of Bush-era tax cuts just before midnight Thursday by a vote of 277-148. The bill, already passed by the Senate, now goes to President Barack Obama for signature. The bill includes a 2% rollback of Social Security payroll taxes, extends unemployment insurance for 13 months, and brings back the estate tax at 35% for two years on estates of more than $5 million. Wall Street has given mixed reviews to the plan, believing it may help stimulate a weak economic recovery but at the cost of even deeper deficit burdens.

In Friday's company news:

Shares of InterMune ( ITMN ) are soaring after the company said that the European Medicines Agency "adopted a positive opinion" to allow the marketing of its lung drug Esbriet. The drug is being developed for the treatment of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. This is a a rare, fatal condition where lungs suffer scarring due to unknown causes.

Shares of Google ( GOOG ) are seeing pressure this morning as the the Internet search giant faces antitrust complaints in the European Union from publishers who say that the company discriminates against their sites, Bloomberg reports. The EU took over part of a complaint that was original filed with Germany's antitrust agency in January. The EU is looking into whether Google discriminated against competing services in its search results.

Hewlett Packard Co. ( HPQ ) shares are just lower after the computer maker said it faces a wider federal investigation into alleged payment of kickbacks to sell its products overseas. The joint U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission probe is now looking into bribery allegations in Austria, Serbia, the Netherlands and the Commonwealth of Independent States, according to a regulatory filing by the company. HP is already under investigation in Russia and Germany for alleged bribes dating back as far as 10 years ago.

ADRs of AstraZeneca ( AZN ) are down in the regular session after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked for additional analysis of data from a study of Brilinta. Analysts said the demand for extra analysis is likely to delay final approval of the drug by six to twelve months.

Oracle ( ORCL ) is up almost 6% in regular session trading after posting solid results late Thursday and is providing some lift for the tech sector.

Shares of Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA) are mixed as investors look at whether the two credit card networks will face permanent damage after the Federal Reserve proposed rules that could cut debit-card transaction fees by 90%. This morning, Goldman Sachs downgraded Visa to Buy from Conviction Buy, citing the regulatory overhang from the Fed's debit interchange proposals.

Shares of International Coal (ICO) are higher after Bloomberg reported that Massey Energy (MEE) is considering its options, which include selling itself or taking over International Coal. Massey's discussions with International Coal, which started early this year, resumed again after a brief lull on Dec. 3 following Massey Chief Executive Don Blankenship's decision to retire at the end of this year, Bloomberg reported, citing three people with knowledge of the matter. Meanwhile, another rival Alpha Natural Resources (ANR) has remained open to buying Massey and is among the options that is being considered by the Massey board, the people told the agency. At least two other coal mining companies are interested in Massey apart from ANR.

Allied Irish Banks (AIB) and Bank of Ireland (IRE) are lower after Moody's downgraded Ireland's credit rating by five notches. Moody's cut Ireland's rating to Baa1 with a negative outlook from Aa2 and warned further downgrades could follow if Dublin was unable to stabilize its debt situation.

Shares of Coca Cola Enterprises (CCE) are just higher in the regular session as the beverage distributor affirmed its pro forma 2010 EPS guidance in the range of $1.74 to $1.78 per share. The Street view is $1.79 per share, according to Thomson Reuters. Revenue is expected to be about $7.4 billion compared to expectations of $7.40 billion. For 2011, the company said it expects to achieve 2011 comparable and currency neutral earnings per diluted common share growth in a range of 10 percent to 12 percent.

Shares of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) are down as the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from the retailer in the biggest employment discrimination case in the nation's history, The New york Times reported. The case has claims that says Wal-Mart discriminated against thousands of women in promotion and compensation. The lawsuit is looking for back pay the could total billions of dollars.

Commodities are higher. February gold contracts are up $1, or 0.11%, to $1,373 an ounce while January crude oil contacts are up 0.23%, or $0.20, at $87.90 a barrel.

In energy ETFs, the United States Oil Fund (USO) is up 0.23% to $37.85 and the United States Natural Gas fund (UNG) is up 0.76% to $5.58.

In precious metal ETFs, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is up 0.02% to $133.84. Market Vectors Gold Miners (GDX) is down 0.47% to $59.89. iShares Silver Trust (SLV) is up 0.11% to $28.31.



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.

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This article appears in: Investing , Commodities

Referenced Stocks: AZN , GOOG , HPQ , ITMN , ORCL

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