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Vladimir Putin has authorized a draft treaty for Crimea to join Russia and has formally notified his country's parliament of the Ukrainian province's request in that regard. The actions follow Putin signing a decree yesterday that recognizes Crimea's independence, which has allowed negotiations on annexation to start. Putin is due to address parliament later today.

U.S. CPI data is due out this morning, with economists expecting that inflation fell to 1.2% on year in February from 1.6% in January. The figures will come as the FOMC convenes for its first meeting with Janet Yellen as Chair of the Fed. Policy makers are expected to trim another $10B from the bank's QE program, while they could also abandon the 6.5% unemployment trigger for considering a rate hike and link policy to a range of economic indicators instead.

Germany's Constitutional Court has rejected lawsuits that sought to block the European Stability Mechanism by questioning the legality of the eurozone rescue fund. A decision the other way could have caused market turmoil, but the justices seem to have done all they can to avoid that in various cases over the past couple of years.

Stocks
James River Coal's shares plunged 14.7% in post-market trading after the company said its auditors would issue a "going concern" warning if they were to provide an opinion. James River Coal (JRCC) is unable to make interest payments on $230M of 3.125% convertible senior notes due in 2018. The coal miner also delayed filing its annual 10-K report due to accounting and other issues.

Hertz plans to spin off its equipment-rental business for $2.5B, confirming a report from earlier this week. Hertz (NYSE:HTZ) intends to use some of the money to fund a $1B share repurchase program. The car-rental company disclosed the news along with its Q4 results: EPS of $0.26 missed by $0.06, while revenue rose 9.9% to $2.55B but undershot forecasts by $70M.

GM sent notices to dealers in 2005 and 2006 saying that ignition switches in some of its models could turn a car engine off. Rather than issuing a recall, GM (NYSE:GM) told dealers to advise drivers to remove non-essential items from key chains, while the car-maker also provided an insert to stop keys from jostling. The revelation is the latest to show how GM knew about the issue years ago.

GE could reportedly be a target for activist investors, which is one reason CEO Jeffrey Immelt invited Nelson Peltz to speak with senior management a few months ago. Peltz discussed topics of interest to activist shareholders, including staff cuts and divestitures. While it's unclear how worried GE's (NYSE:GE) management is, the conglomerate is planning to spin off its consumer credit unit and it's been returning plenty of money to shareholders.

3M is targeting Chinese revenue growth of 15% over the next five years, three times the company's forecasts for overall sales of +4-6%, CEO Inge Thulin has said. China accounted for 10% of 3M's (NYSE:MMM) total revenue of $30.9B in 2013. The company is looking to benefit from the Chinese government's push to increase consumption, reduce pollution, improve health, and strengthen water and food safety. 3M's anti-pollution face masks, for example, sold out in December.

Exxon Mobil sold $5.5B in its biggest-ever bond offering as the energy giant ended a more than two-decade absence from the U.S. market. Exxon (NYSE:XOM), which is rated AAA, issued fixed- and floating-rate notes in a five-part sale, and plans to use the proceeds to finance capital spending, for acquisitions, and to refinance commercial borrowings. The new securities add to Exxon's total debt of $22.7B.

American Express intends to spin off 50% of its business-travel unit in a $900M deal in which the company will create a joint venture with an investor group that was formed by Certares International Bank and includes Qatar's sovereign wealth fund. The new unit will continue using the AmEx (NYSE:AXP) brand and will be led by Bill Glenn, the company's president of global commercial services.

Results for Oracle and Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE), companies that are trying to manage the change to cloud computing, are due out after the bell today. Analysts estimate that Oracle's (NYSE:ORCL) FQ3 EPS rose to $0.70 from $0.65 a year earlier while revenue increased 4.3% to $9.36B. Wedbush's Steve Koenig expects Oracle to beat consensus on the back of healthy sales of its flagship 12c database. Adobe's FQ1 EPS is seen falling to $0.25 from $0.35 and revenue 3.5% to $973.09M.

Caesars Entertainment has received a preliminary casino license in South Korea, the first time that the government has awarded a permit to foreign-investors. Along with Hong Kong joint-venture partner Lippo, Caesars (NASDAQ:CZR) plans to build a 2.3T won ($2.15B) resort. Caesars and Lippo may well be followed by other foreign companies - Wynn (NASDAQ:WYNN) and MGM (NYSE:MGM) could reportedly attempt to obtain permits if and when the process eases.

CB&I's joint venture with Japan's Chiyoda has won a $6B contract to construct a 13.5M metric tons/year export plant in Hackberry in Louisiana for Sempra Energy (NYSE:SRE) unit Cameron LNG. The deal for CB&I (NYSE:CBI) and Chiyoda comes after Cameron LNG last month received conditional authorization from the Department of Energy to export domestically produced LNG to countries without a free trade agreement with the U.S.


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Today's Markets:
In Asia, Japan +0.9% to 14411. Hong Kong +0.5% to 21584. China +0.1% to 2025. India +0.1% to 21833.
In Europe, at midday, London -0.3%. Paris -0.1%. Frankfurt -0.7%.
Futures at 6:20: Dow -0.15%. S&P -0.2%. Nasdaq -0.2%. Crude +0.15% to $98.23. Gold -0.7% to $1363.80.
Ten-year Treasury Yield -3 bps to 2.67%.

Today's economic calendar:
FOMC meeting begins
7:45 ICSC Retail Store Sales
8:30 Consumer Price Index
8:30 Housing Starts
8:55 Redbook Chain Store Sales
9:00 Treasury International Capital

Notable earnings before today's open: CCL, DSW, FDS, HTZ, YGE

Notable earnings after today's close: ADBE, ORCL, PSUN, RENN

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Source: Wall Street Breakfast: Must-Know News