Economic Data, ECB Loans Push Futures Higher

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A bigger-than-expected increase in U.S. fourth-quarter economic output, combined with a larger ECB loan offering than analysts expected, lifted stock-index futures modestly into the green.

Today's Markets

As of 8:38 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures rose 12 points to 13009, S&P 500 futures gained 2 points to 1374 and Nasdaq 100 futures climbed 4 points to 2636.

The Dow closed above the 13000 mark on Tuesday, a level the blue-chip index hadn't ended above since before the financial crisis dealt a powerful blow to Wall Street and the economy. Broader indices, such as the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, are also sitting at multi-year highs.

The Commerce Department’s second reading of fourth-quarter gross domestic product showed the economy expanded at a 3% annual rate, the quickest pace since the second quarter of 2010. The pace was quicker than an initial reading and economists' estimates of 2.8%.

The Federal Reserve also releases its Beige Book at 2:00 p.m. ET, which provides an anecdotal survey of the economy from central bank officials across the country. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke also delivers his semi-annual monetary policy report on Capitol Hill on the day.

The ECB on Wednesday said it provided 800 lenders with some $713 billion in three-year loans and a bargain interest rate of 1%. The offering eclipsed its first such loan package in which it  offered roughly $658 billion in December, and market expectations of $673 billion.

The central bank has hoped that lenders will take the low-interest loans and lend them out to businesses and consumers across Europe, boosting the continent's flagging economy. Also, the ECB expects banks to use some of the money to invest in higher yielding sovereign debt, pushing prices of those bonds up and yields down in a bid to ease countries' borrowing costs.

The last round has generally been seen as a key to helping stave off a credit crunch in Europe that appeared to be developing last year. The yields on Italian and Spanish debt that were under intense upward pressure have been easing since then.

The euro dipped 0.09% to $1.3446, while the U.S. dollar fell 0.07% against a basket of world currencies that are tracked by the dollar index.

Oil prices and gasoline prices edged higher after easing over the past two sessions. The benchmark U.S. crude oil contracted rose 32 cents, or 0.34%, to $106.90 a barrel. New York Harbor RBOB gasoline jumped 0.92% to $3.068 a gallon. At the retail level, a gallon of regular costs $3.73 on average nationwide, up from $3.43 last month and $3.38 last year, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report.

In metals, gold fell $1.00, or 0.06%, to $1,787 a troy ounce. U.S. Treasury yields fell slightly as traders bid up the asset. The benchmark 10-year note yields 1.932% from 1.945%.

Corporate News

Costco Wholesale (NASDAQ:COST) revealed a solid fiscal-second quarter profit that came in three cents ahead of analysts' expectations on a per-share basis.

Staples (NYSE:SPLS), the largest U.S. office supply chain, posted fourth-quarter results that beat Wall Street's expectations on the top and bottom lines.

Foreign Markets

European blue chips rose 0.52%, the English FTSE 100 edged higher by 0.02% to 5929 and the German DAX climbed 0.54% to 6925.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 inched higher by 0.01% to 9723 and the Chinese Hang Seng gained 0.52% to 21680.