Stocks poised for higher start ahead of data, Geithner's plan

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U.S. stock index futures were higher Thursday morning, indicating Wall Street could have a positive day. Investors' sentiment was lifted by hopes the U.S. economy may be starting to stabilize. Still, economic data coming out this morning could rattle investors, as could the Treasury Secretary's new proposals for the financial system.

At 10:00 a.m. Eastern, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner will testify in front of a House Financial Services Committee. He's expected to unveil plans for an extensive overhaul of financial regulations in an effort to prevent a repeat of the banking crisis. Some of the proposed regulations involve the market for credit default swaps and other types of derivatives, as well as hedge funds registration with the SEC.

Before Geithner unveils the administration's plan, though, economic data is due out:
  • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern, weekly Initial Unemployment Claims will be reported.
  • At the same time, final reading of fourth quarter GDP is due out.
  • Several Fed presidents are due to speak throughout the day. There is a growing feeling of a disconnect between how officials are describing and tackling the problems that plague the financial industry and what is really going on.
As for the economy, not everyone is seeing the same signs. New York University professor Nouriel Roubini said U.S. stocks will fall and the government will nationalize more banks as the economy contracts through the end of 2009.
Overseas, world stock markets gained Thursday, following the gains in the U.S. and hopes that government stimulus measures are starting to heal the global economy. People's Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan's comments may have helped too, as he said the world's third-largest economy is recovering thanks to he government's "decisive" action. Meanwhile, oil prices rose above $53 a barrel, also thanks to the encouraging U.S. data on durable goods orders and home sales, as this could mean a recovery in crude demand.

The public debate over executive bonuses of bailed-out firms continues to rage on. On the one hand, lawmakers are softening their stance on denying those bonuses, but on the other, they are looking for a way to appease the public without alienating an industry whose cooperation is crucial to the nation's economic recovery.
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