Across the pond, rumors are swirling that Germany and France are in discussions to find additional ways to shore up the struggling euro zone, possibly through bailout fund insurance of bonds among various European countries. Against this backdrop, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is headed over 220 points higher. In the same vein, the S&P 500 Index (SPX) is up over 28 points, possibly on track to snap its losing streak of seven consecutive sessions.
Ahead of Tuesday's investor day, UnitedHealth Group (UNH - 43.67) backed its 2011 earnings guidance of $4.52 to $4.57 per share, and predicted a fiscal 2012 profit of $4.55 to $4.75 per share. For comparison, Wall Street is predicting a profit of $4.55 per share for 2011, and $4.75 per share for 2012. Shares of UNH are headed fractionally higher in pre-market trading.
In equities news, Red Hat, Inc. (RHT - 44.93) announced that its Executive Vice President of Sales, Services, & Field Marketing, Alex Pinchev, has resigned, effective Jan. 16, 2012. Pinchev is taking over the CEO position for a privately owned software company. Ahead of the bell, RHT is trading 1.3% lower.
The economic calendar kicks off today with a report on new home sales. The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index is scheduled to hit the Street on Tuesday, along with the Conference Board's monthly report on consumer confidence. Employment data starts to trickle in on Wednesday, with the release of the Challenger, Gray & Christmas report on job cuts, and ADP's private payrolls number for November. Also on tap are the Chicago PMI, pending home sales, and the Fed's Beige Book. Thursday features the ISM manufacturing index, as well as construction spending data and the usual report on weekly jobless claims. The week wraps up with a bang on Friday, when the Labor Department unveils its monthly nonfarm payrolls report.
Equity option activity on the Chicago Board Options Exchange ( CBOE ) saw 333,887 call contracts traded on Friday, compared to 255,832 put contracts. The resultant single-session put/call ratio arrived at 0.77, while the 21-day moving average was 0.73.
Stocks in Asia ended higher across the board today, boosted by hints of progress on the European debt crisis. Specifically, Reuters reported that euro-zone leaders will convene Tuesday to set forth concrete rules to leverage the region's bailout fund, taking a long-awaited step to support cash-strapped governments. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund ( IMF ) eventually denied speculation that it was prepared to release a large tranche of aid to Italy, but not until after Asian investors responded enthusiastically to the news. By the close, South Korea's Kospi rose 2.2%, Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 2%, Japan's Nikkei climbed 1.6%, and China's Shanghai Composite gained 0.1%.
The major European indexes are also pointed north at midday, bolstered by reports that France and Germany are ready to move forward with the proposed expansion of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). In fact, traders are completely shrugging off a negative note from Moody's this morning, with the ratings agency warning that the ongoing euro-zone debt drama is "threatening the credit standing of all European sovereigns." At last check, the French CAC 40 is up 3.8%, the German DAX has tacked on 3.4%, and London's FTSE 100 has risen 2.2%.
Currencies and Commodities
The U.S. dollar index is down almost 1%, at last check, to trade in the $79 neighborhood. Crude futures, meanwhile, are on pace to start the week solidly in the black. The front-month contract was last seen over 3% higher, trading just a whisper under the century mark at $99.73 per barrel. Gold futures are headed north, as well, with the malleable metal up 1.6% near $1,715.60 an ounce.
Unusual Put and Call Activity:
Due to technical issues, the Unusual Put and Call Activity charts are unavailable today. We apologize for any inconvenience.
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