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Economy
Russia's Micex stock index was -2% at the time of writing after the U.S. threatened sanctions against vital parts of the country's economy, including the financial-services, energy and mining sectors. The U.S. also imposed asset freezes and visa bans on senior Russian officials and businessmen close to Vladimir Putin. Bank Rossiya was hit as well, which seems to have prompted Visa (NYSE:V) and MasterCard (NYSE:MA) to stop providing it with services for payment transactions.

Fitch has raised the U.S.'s outlook to "stable" while affirming the country's AAA rating, citing the suspension of the debt limit last month and strong fiscal consolidation as reasons for the move. Fitch had placed the U.S. on "rating watch negative" in October amid the battles in Washington over raising the debt ceiling and over the federal budget.

Thailand's Constitutional Court has invalidated the nation's snap general election in February, as protests in several parts of the country prevented voting from being completed on the same day. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had called the ballot in an attempt to quell often violent protests that were aimed at forcing her to resign. The turmoil in Thailand has hit the country's markets over the past few months, although the SET stock index fell just 0.1% today.

Italian industrial orders jumped 4.8% on month in January after sinking 4.8% in December, while industrial sales rose 1.2% vs -0.3%. The figures add to better-than-expected output in January and suggest that Italy's fragile recovery may be taking hold. Still, it's worth remembering that unemployment remains high and that Italy is flirting with deflation.

Stocks
Symantec has fired CEO Steve Bennett after less than two years in the job in a move that sent shares in the security software company tumbling 9.1% premarket. Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC) named Director Michael Brown as interim CEO while it looks for a permanent successor. Bennett's axing follows earnings disappointments, ongoing share losses and a series of executive departures last autumn.

Nike's FQ3 earnings beat consensus as the company enjoyed rising sales in China and Western Europe, while it also said orders have soared ahead of this summer's soccer World Cup. However, shares fell 2.8% premarket after the company provided disappointing guidance. FQ3 adjusted EPS was $0.76 and revenue climbed 12.6% to $6.97B, although net profit fell 21% to $685M.

The cost of implementing the Volcker Rule could vary from $413M to $4.3B for banks supervised by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency ((NASDAQ:OCC)), an OCC study calculates, as the regulations force banks to sell restricted investments at a loss. "The range of our cost estimate primarily reflects the uncertainty of the final rule's impact on the market value of banks' investments," the report says.

A Senate panel is reportedly looking into whether Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) improperly evaded U.S. taxes. The probe comes after a Caterpillar employee accused the company in 2009 of avoiding over $2B in taxes by using a "Swiss structure" to move profits to offshore companies. The firm would then return the money to America via a "Bermuda structure" that involved shell companies, again paying no tax.

In an echo of what sometimes pleasingly happens in the physical world, Mt. Gox has found 200,000 missing Bitcoins worth around $116M in an old virtual wallet from 2011. The exchange had shifted the money into the wallet, which was offline, in order to protect it from hackers. However, 650,000 Bitcoins that were probably online and more prone to attack are still missing following a massive breach that caused Mt. Gox to file for bankruptcy.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra is set to testify on April 1 at hearings in the House into why it took GM (NYSE:GM) over a decade to recall cars with faulty car ignition switches. The House Energy & Commerce Committee, which is holding the hearings, has also invited David Friedman, the acting Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


Top Ideas
GlobalScape (NYSEMKT:GSB) - new article by Soldier of Fortune »
Pizza Inn (NASDAQ:PZZI) - new article by Intangible Valuation »
Acme United (NYSEMKT:ACU) +18.5% since Feb. 5 BuyTheDip SellTheRip article »
Senomyx (NASDAQ:SNMX) +158% since Nov. 13 Stephen Simpson, CFA article »

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Today's Markets:
In Asia, Japan closed. Hong Kong +1.2% to 21437. China +2.7% to 2048. India +0.1% to 21754.
In Europe, at midday, London +0.3%. Paris +0.6%. Frankfurt +0.5%.
Futures at 6:20: Dow +0.3%. S&P +0.3%. Nasdaq +0.3%. Crude +0.15% to $99.05. Gold +0.6% to $1338.
Ten-year Treasury Yield flat at 2.77%.

Today's economic calendar:
10:00 Atlanta Fed's Business Inflation Expectations
11:45 Fed's Bullard:"Nominal GDP"
4:30 PM Fed's Kocherlakota Speech
6:30 PM Jeremy Stein: Monetary Policy

Notable earnings before today's open: DRI, TIF

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Source: Wall Street Breakfast: Must-Know News