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DJIA set to add to record highs. The Dow Jones looks poised to build on its gains from yesterday, when it closed +0.83% at a record high of 14246, with DJIA futures rising 0.3% premarket. The Dow's rise has helped boost Asian and European shares, and Japanese and Australian stocks hit fresh multi-year peaks. However, not everyone's convinced. "With the recent gains put largely down to central-bank stimulus and the fundamentals around the global economy remaining uncertain, heavy skepticism persists," says trader Jonathan Sudaria.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dies of cancer. Venezuela will hold elections within 30 days after Hugo Chavez died of cancer. Chavez's passing leaves major uncertainty, including over the country's oil fields, whose capacity has declined due to chronic under-investment and hostility to foreign firms. "Instability in Venezuela is the real risk, because that could have a dramatic impact on global oil supplies," says Rice University's Mark Jones. Despite Chavez's antagonism to the U.S., Venezuela provides 1M bpd of crude to America.

Top Stock News
Vodafone jumps on speculation about Verizon merger talks. Vodafone (VOD) shares surged 6.6% in London following a report yesterday that it has been in talks about merging with Verizon (VZ), whose real goal is to take full control of Verizon Wireless. However, discussions have stalled over "disagreements on leadership and headquarters location." That apparently makes a buyout or partial sale of Vodafone's 45% stake in Verizon Wireless - estimated to be worth $115B - more likely.

Toyota revamps its management. As expected, Toyota (TM) is overhauling its management for the second year in a row, including promoting Vice Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada to replace Fujio Cho as Chairman. The company has also named outside directors for the first time in its history, adding three to the board. Toyota President Akio Toyoda wants to empower those lower down the chain so that "everyone is aware that they are in charge."

Sale of Life Technologies could be back on. Life Technologies (LIFE) is reportedly back in buyout talks, this time with a consortium of private-equity firms that includes Blackstone (BX) and Carlyle (CG). Last month, prospects for a sale of the biomedical laboratory equipment maker looked dim, as potential suitors had been put off by the run up in Life's share price, which has given it a market cap of $10.6B and could still be an obstacle to a deal.

MetroPCS / T-Mobile merger gets past DOJ hurdle. The Department of Justice doesn't object to MetroPCS's (PCS) merger with T-Mobile USA, the latter's parent company, Deutsche Telekom (OTCPK:DTEGF), has said. The deal now needs the approval of the FTC, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, and MetroPCS's shareholders, some of whom aren't totally enamored with the transaction.

BOE governor: RBS should be broken up. RBS (RBS) should be split up into a healthy and a bad bank, outgoing Bank of England Governor Mervyn King has told a U.K. parliamentary panel, saying that the way the part-nationalization of RBS has been handled has been "a nonsense." The state's ownership "should have been a temporary period," King said. "It has dragged on unnecessarily long." RBS's shares were +0.5% at midday in London.

Honeywell won't feel big impact from automatic defense cuts. Honeywell (HON), which generated 11% of its revenue from the U.S. government in 2012, expects its defense business to dip slightly in 2013, but it doesn't believe sequestration will have a big effect. "We anticipated and planned for some level and some period of sequestration," CFO David Anderson said. Still, Honeywell intends to continue to slow down its hiring, due to the uncertainty surrounding the economy.

Top Economic & Other News
Australia enjoys strong GDP growth in 2012. Australian GDP climbed 3.6% in 2012, representing the strongest growth since 2007 and one of the best performances in the developed world as rising exports and resources investment offset a slump in manufacturing and construction. In Q4, GDP slipped to an expected +0.6% on quarter from +0.7% in Q3. Australian shares hit fresh multi-year highs and the S&P/ASX 200 closed +0.8%.

Italian President could appoint technocrat government. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano is thinking about appointing a technocrat government if center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani is unable to form a coalition, which looks likely. The problem is that the newly powerful 5-Star Movement has said it won't support a technocrat administration. Meanwhile, investors watch on nervously, although the post-election market turmoil has calmed down somewhat, and 10-year bond yields were -13 bps at 4.64% at midday in Europe.

Report skeptical over progress to prevent foreign infrastructure waste. The government has made little progress in ensuring that money for infrastructure projects during future military operations won't be wasted, an audit from the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction reportedly says. Various studies have found that billions of dollars were misspent in Iraq and Afghanistan, with U.S. money even being diverted to fund insurgents.

Editors' Picks
SA Pro: Boston Beer - Buy The Beer, Sell The Stock
Nokia Is Connecting The Next Billion People
Comcast Is Entering The Wonderful World Of Disney

Today's Markets:
In Asia, Japan +2.1% to 11932. Hong Kong +1% to 22778. China +0.9% to 2347. India +0.6% to 19253.
In Europe, at midday, London +0.4%. Paris +0.2%. Frankfurt +1.1%.
Futures at 7:00: Dow +0.3%. S&P +0.4%. Nasdaq +0.2%. Crude -0.1% to $90.70. Gold flat at $1574.40.

Today's economic calendar:
7:00 MBA Mortgage Applications
8:15 ADP Jobs Report
10:00 Factory Orders
10:30 EIA Petroleum Inventories
2:00 PM Fed's Beige Book

Notable earnings before today's open: AEO, AMRC, BF.B, BIG, END, HOV, POZN, SPLS, TFM, WMC, WRES

Notable earnings after today's close: ALJ, AMTG, CODI, DK, DRYS, ERII, NQ, PETM, PNY, TCAP

See full real-time earnings coverage »

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Source: Wall Street Breakfast: Must-Know News