European Debt Worries Weigh on Markets

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U.S. markets were poised for a lower open Wednesday as more European sovereign debt worries – this time out of Spain – weighed on equities both here and across the Atlantic.

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As of 9:20 a.m. in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average futures were down 17 points to 11404, the S&P 500 futures fell 4.5 points to 1233.30 and the Nasdaq 100 futures fell 2.75 points to 2211.25.

The credit agency Moody’s Investor Service issued a warning Wednesday that it was putting Spain’s “Aa1” credit rating on review for a possible downgrade. In a statement, Moody’s analysts said Spain’s high debt level leaves the Mediterranean country vulnerable to the current hostile state of the markets toward debt-laden countries.

Spain’s stock market dropped 2% on the news, dragging the continent’s other major indices with it.

It also put selling pressure on the euro, which was down 0.4% against the dollar. Commodities were also lower with both oil and gold futures down 1%.

Here in the U.S., Wall St. reacted to two economic reports focusing on inflation and manufacturing but the conditions in Europe eclipsed what was generally-positive economic data.

The Labor Department reported that consumer prices rose 0.1% in the month, below the 0.2% rise that economists had expected. It was the first consecutive monthly rise in the indicator, but inflation remains tame as general economic conditions outweigh rising food and energy costs.

Meanwhile a New York-state manufacturing index returned to positive territory this month, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Wednesday. The Empire State manufacturing gauge rose to a +10.57 compared with the -11.14 the index reported in November.

Later this morning, traders will get industrial production figures from the Federal Reserve.

Company News

Novartis (NYSE:NVS) and eye care company Alcon (NYSE:ACL) agreed to complete a merger that the two companies began more than a year ago. Novartis will pay Alcon shareholders $168 a share for the remaining 23% stake that  Novartis doesn't already own.