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WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) - Following the pullback seen late in the previous session, stocks are likely to move back to the upside in early trading on Thursday. The major index futures are currently pointing to a higher open for the markets, with the Dow futures up by 68 points.

Early buying interest may be generated in reaction to a report from the Commerce Department showing stronger than expected U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter of 2021.

The report said real gross domestic product spiked by 6.9 percent in the fourth quarter after jumping by 2.3 percent in the third quarter. Economists had expected GDP to surge up by 5.5 percent.

The Commerce Department said the stronger than expected GDP growth reflected increases in private inventory investment, exports, consumer spending and nonresidential fixed investment.

The data may offset concerns that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus derailed the economy even as the Federal Reserve prepares to begin raising interest rates to combat inflation.

Adding to the positive sentiment, the Labor Department released a report showing initial jobless claims pulled back in the week ended January 22nd following a bigger than expected increase in the previous week.

The report said initial jobless claims fell to 260,000, a decrease of 30,000 from the previous week's revised level of 290,000.

Economists had expected jobless claims to drop to 260,000 from the 286,000 originally reported for the previous week.

However, the upward momentum on Wall Street may be partly offset by a negative reaction to earnings from big-name companies like Intel (INTC), Tesla (TSLA) and McDonald's (MCD).

The Commerce Department also released a separate report showing new orders for durable goods fell by more than expected in the month of December amid a sharp pullback in orders for transportation equipment.

The report said durable goods orders slumped by 0.9 percent in December after soaring by an upwardly revised 3.2 percent in November.

Economists had expected durable goods orders to decrease by 0.5 percent compared to the 2.6 percent spike that had been reported for the previous month.

Excluding the steep drop in orders for transportation equipment, durable goods orders rose by 0.4 percent in December after jumping by 1.1 percent in November. Ex-transportation orders were expected to increase by 0.5 percent.

Not long after the start of trading, the National Association of Realtors is scheduled to release its report on pending home sales in the month of December. Pending home sales are expected to edge down by 0.2 percent.

A pending home sale is one in which a contract was signed but not yet closed. Normally, it takes four to six weeks to close a contracted sale.

Stocks were mostly higher for much of the trading session on Wednesday but came under pressure in reaction to the Federal Reserve's highly anticipated monetary policy announcement. The major averages all moved to the downside, although the Nasdaq managed to creep back above the unchanged line.

After surging as much as 3.4 percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq pulled back well off its best levels but still inched up 2.82 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 13,542.12. Meanwhile, the Dow fell 129.64 points or 0.4 percent to 34,168.09 and the S&P 500 dipped 6.52 points or 0.2 percent to 4,349.93.

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved sharply lower during trading on Thursday. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index plummeted by 3.1 percent, while China's Shanghai Composite Index tumbled by 1.8 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets have moved to the upside after seeing early weakness. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index is up by 0.9 percent, the French CAC 40 Index is up by 0.1 percent and the German DAX Index is just above the unchanged line.

In commodities trading, crude oil futures are climbing $0.69 to $88.04 a barrel after jumping $1.75 to $87.35 a barrel on Wednesday. Meanwhile, after tumbling $22.80 to $1,829.70 an ounce in the previous session, gold futures are plunging $27.10 to $1,802.60 an ounce.

On the currency front, the U.S. dollar is trading at 115.37 yen versus the 114.64 yen it fetched at the close of New York trading on Wednesday. Against the euro, the dollar is valued at $1.1145 compared to yesterday's $1.1240.

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WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) - Lower U.S. futures and somewhat sluggish European markets point to a slightly weak start for U.S. stocks Thursday morning.

Data on fourth-quarter GDP, personal consumption expenditure in the fourth quarter, durable goods orders data for the month of December, and jobless claims data for the week ended January 22, are due at 8:30 AM ET.

Data on pending home sales in the U.S. is due out at 10 AM ET.

After exhibiting strength for much of the day's session till the Federal Reserve announced its monetary policy, U.S. stocks moved to the downside Wednesday.

The late-day pullback on Wall Street came after the Fed indicated that it plans to begin raising interest rates 'soon,' citing elevated inflation and a strong labor market.

The Nasdaq, which surged up 3.4%, ended with a gain of just 2.82 points or less than a tenth of a percent at 13,542.12. The Dow ended down by 129.64 points or 0.4 percent at 34,168.09, while the S&P 500 settled with a loss of 6.52 points or 0.2 percent at 4,349.93.

NcDonald's Corp (MCD) reported a 19 percent increase in profit for the fourth-quarter at $1.64 billion, up from $1.38 billion in the prior-year quarter.

Southwest Airlines Co (LUV) reported fourth quarter net income of $68 million, or $0.11 per diluted share. The carrier, which anticipates a loss in the current quarter through March, expects to be profitable for the remaining three quarters of 2022 and for the full year.

Asian stocks ended sharply lower on Thursday, reacting to the hawkish tone from the Federal Reserve. On Wednesday, the Fed signaled its plans to hike interest rates in March and end its bond purchases that month to counter escalating inflation.

The hawkish tone, reflecting the upside risks to inflation triggered a dollar rally and dented the appeal of equities. Escalating Russia-Ukraine political tensions also sapped investors' appetite for riskier assets.

European stocks are off early lows in cautious trade with investors digesting a slew of earnings updates.

In commodities trading, West Texas Intermediate Crude oil futures are up $0.70 or 0.8 percent at $88.05 a barrel. Gold futures are down $22.10 or 1.21 percent at $1,807.60 an ounce.

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BRUSSELS/FRANKFURT/PARIS (dpa-AFX) - European stocks fell on Thursday after the U.S. Federal Reserve signaled it plans to hike interest rates in March and end its bond purchases that month to counter escalating inflation.

Regional markets, however, came off their day's lows on the back of positive earnings news.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 was down 0.6 percent at 464.30 after climbing 1.7 percent on Wednesday.

The German DAX was down 0.9 percent and France's CAC 40 index slid 0.6 percent while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 was marginally higher, reversing early losses.

French-Italian chipmaker STMicroelectronics jumped 4.4 percent. The company announced plans to double its investments this year after posting higher net profit for the fourth quarter.

EasyJet rose about 1 percent in London. The low-cost airline said it has seen a recent boost in bookings from the move to scrap Covid travel tests.

Private equity firm 3i Group gained 1 percent after posting total return of 32.6 percent for the nine months to 31 December 2021.

Soft drink maker Britvic rallied 2.1 percent after reporting strong performance in the first quarter of fiscal 2022.

Online trading platform IG Group Holdings surged 4.4 percent after its profit before tax for the half year grew 8 percent to 245.2 million pounds.

Business software group SAP plunged 6 percent after it agreed to buy a majority stake in privately held U.S. fintech firm Taulia.

Lender Deutsche Bank jumped 3.8 percent after posting a surprise profit in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Power generator RWE advanced 2.4 percent after significantly exceeding its guidance for 2021.

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BRUSSELS/FRANKFURT/PARIS (dpa-AFX) - U.K. stocks were little changed on Thursday, after having fallen sharply earlier in the session on concerns that the U.S. Federal Reserve will increasingly prioritize inflation.

The benchmark FTSE 100 was up 4 points at 7,474, reversing initial losses as investors digest mostly solid corporate earnings.

EasyJet rose about 1 percent. The low-cost airline said it has seen a recent boost in bookings from the move to scrap Covid travel tests.

Private equity firm 3i Group gained 1 percent after posting total return of 32.6 percent for the nine months to 31 December 2021.

Ricardo shares were up 0.9 percent. The engineering services company said that its performance for the first half of fiscal 2022 was in line with the board's expectations.

Soft drink maker Britvic rallied 2.1 percent after reporting strong performance in the first quarter of fiscal 2022.

Online trading platform IG Group Holdings surged 4.4 percent after its profit before tax for the half year grew 8 percent to 245.2 million pounds.

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BRUSSELS/FRANKFURT/PARIS (dpa-AFX) - French stocks were moving lower on Thursday as the FOMC event resulted in a solid bout of risk aversion across global financial markets.

The U.S. central bank signaled its first rate hike since 2018 will happen 'soon.'

Asset purchases are likely to halt in March while the process of balance sheet reduction will commence after it has begun raising rates.

Geopolitical tensions also remained on investors' radar.

The United States is 'ready either way' in handling the escalating Ukraine crisis, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters as the Biden administration's top envoy delivered a written response to Russia, laying out a serious diplomatic path forward and rejecting some of Russia's key demands.

The benchmark CAC 40 was down 55 points, or 0.8 percent, at 6,926 after rising 2.1 percent in the previous session.

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BRUSSELS/FRANKFURT/PARIS (dpa-AFX) - German stocks tumbled on Thursday as Fed Chair Jerome Powell's hawkish tone, reflecting the upside risks to inflation triggered a dollar rally and dented the appeal of equities.

Investors ignored survey results from the market research group GfK showing that German consumer confidence is set to improve in February.

After two consecutive declines, the consumer sentiment index rose to -6.7 in February from revised -6.9 in January. Economists had forecast the index to fall to -7.8.

Both the economic and income expectations as well as the propensity to buy improved in January compared to the previous month.

The benchmark DAX dropped 248 points, or 1.60 percent, to 15,211 after rallying 2.2 percent the previous day.

Business software group SAP plunged 8 percent after it agreed to buy a majority stake in privately held U.S. fintech firm Taulia.

Lender Deutsche Bank jumped more than 4 percent after posting a surprise profit in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Power generator RWE advanced 1.9 percent after significantly exceeding its guidance for 2021.

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CANBERA (dpa-AFX) - Asian stocks slumped on Thursday after the U.S. Federal signaled it plans to hike interest rates in March and end its bond purchases that month to counter escalating inflation.

The hawkish tone, reflecting the upside risks to inflation triggered a dollar rally and dented the appeal of equities. Escalating Russia-Ukraine political tensions also sapped investors' appetite for riskier assets.

Chinese shares hit their lowest levels in nearly 16 months on worries the Federal Reserve would move aggressively to curb inflation.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite index fell 61.42 points, or 1.78 percent, to 3,394.25 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index ended down 482.90 points, or 1.99 percent, at 23,807.

Japanese stocks tumbled as the FOMC event resulted in a solid bout of risk aversion across global financial markets. The Nikkei average sank 841.03 points, or 3.11 percent, to close at 26,170.30, while the broader Topix index closed 2.61 percent lower at 1,842.44.

Market heavyweight SoftBank lost 9 percent and Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing declined 2.6 percent. Sony Group, which is facing a fresh challenge from cash-rich rivals in the war over the future of gaming, plunged 6.7 percent while Tokyo Electron, which produces tools to build semiconductors, gave up 4.8 percent.

Industrial robot maker Fanuc rose 1.1 percent after upgrading its full-year earnings forecast.

Australian markets fell into correction territory after the Fed signaled interest-rate hikes as early as March. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index fell 123.30 points, or 1.77 percent, to 6,838.30 - extending losses for a four straight session and marking its lowest since April last year.

The broader All Ordinaries index slumped 133.60 points, or 1.84 percent, to 7,114.50, with tech and gold stocks leading the losses. Xero, SEEK and Newcrest Mining lost 6-7 percent.

Energy stocks bucked the weak trend as oil prices broke past $90 a barrel at one point for the first time since 2014. Santos rallied 3.6 percent and Woodside Petroleum added 2.5 percent.

Seoul stocks ended lower for the fifth straight session to hit a 14-month low amid the Fed's hawkish stance and a steep fall in LG Energy Solution on its market debut. The Kospi average plunged 94.75 points, or 3.50 percent, to 2,614.49 - marking the lowest closing in 14 months since 2,591.34 points on Nov. 30, 2020.

Tech stocks such as Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix and Naver all fell around 3 percent even as Samsung broke both its quarterly and annual records for revenue in the fourth quarter of 2021.

LG Energy Solution closed at 505,000 won, down 15.41 percent from its opening price of 597,000 won but still higher than the IPO price of 300,000 won.

Central bank data showed earlier in the day that sentiment among South Korean businesses over the economic situation worsened in January, due to higher logistics cost and weaker demand in the construction and electronic sectors.

New Zealand shares hit their lowest level in more than a year after the Fed sounded very hawkish and domestic data showed New Zealand's annual inflation rate topped a three-decade high at the end of last year, keeping pressure on the Reserve bank to continue ratcheting-up interest rates.

New Zealand's Reserve Bank will review interest rates on February 23 after raising the benchmark interest rate for the second time in two months in November.

The benchmark NZX-50 index dropped 135.33 points, or 1.11 percent, to 12,050.32, marking its lowest close since October 2020, dragged down by high-growth technology and property-related stocks.

Overnight, U.S. stocks erased early gains to end mostly lower and Treasury yields spiked after the Fed indicated that it plans to begin raising interest rates 'soon,' citing elevated inflation and a strong labor market.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite surged as much as 3.4 percent before ending marginally higher.

The Dow and the S&P 500 slipped 0.4 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively as Fed Chair Powell backed a March liftoff and said he won't rule out a hike every meeting.

He described the current inflation situation as 'slightly worse' than in December.

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BRUSSELS/FRANKFURT/PARIS (dpa-AFX) - European stocks may succumb to heavy selling pressure on Thursday, with a hawkish Fed decision, heightened geopolitical risks and concerns over elevated oil prices likely to weigh on sentiment.

The dollar index rose to a level last seen on Nov. 22 and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.8566 percent from 1.846 percent after the Federal Reserve confirmed the very hawkish expectations of the market.

The U.S. central bank signaled its first rate hike since 2018 will happen 'soon.'

Asset purchases are likely to halt in March while the process of balance sheet reduction will commence after it has begun raising rates.

Meanwhile, the United States is 'ready either way' in handling the escalating Ukraine crisis, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters as the Biden administration's top envoy delivered a written response to Russia, laying out a serious diplomatic path forward and rejecting some of Russia's key demands.

Asian markets followed Wall Street lower, while oil prices fell in Asian trade after a 2 percent gain in the previous session amid the Russia-Ukraine tensions and worries over tight energy market supply.

Surging global crude oil prices spell trouble for the global economy as it could further fan inflation.

Gold, generally seen as an inflationary edge, held steady in Asian trade after having fallen the most in two months.

It's another quiet day ahead on the Eurozone's economic calendar, with German consumer sentiment figures likely to be in focus.

Across the Atlantic, trading may be impacted by reaction to reports on weekly jobless claims, durable goods orders and fourth quarter GDP.

On the earnings front, Intel Corp, the world's largest chipmaker, posted record fourth-quarter revenue, but forecast first-quarter earnings short of Wall Street expectations.

Electric carmaker Tesla closed 2021 on a high note but warned that the chip shortage is still an issue.

Home appliance firm Whirlpool reported fourth quarter earnings that beat analysts' forecasts while revenue fell short of expectations.

Comcast, McDonald's and Southwest Airlines are among the companies due to report their results before the start of trading later in the day.

Overnight, U.S. stocks erased early gains to end mostly lower and Treasury yields spiked after the Fed indicated that it plans to begin raising interest rates 'soon,' citing elevated inflation and a strong labor market.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite surged as much as 3.4 percent before ending marginally higher.

The Dow and the S&P 500 slipped 0.4 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively as Fed Chair Powell backed a March liftoff and said he won't rule out a hike every meeting.

He described the current inflation situation as 'slightly worse' than in December.

European stocks rose sharply on Wednesday as investors awaited the latest Fed decision. Sentiment was underpinned after Microsoft forecast revenue for the current quarter broadly ahead of Wall Street targets.

The pan European Stoxx 600 advanced 1.7 percent. The German DAX surged 2.2 percent, France's CAC 40 index climbed 2.1 percent and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 added 1.3 percent.

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CANBERA (dpa-AFX) - Asian stock markets are trading sharply lower on Thursday, following the mixed cues overnight from Wall Street, as traders are reacting to hawkish comments from the US Federal Reserve, which indicated that it plans to begin raising interest rates 'soon,' citing elevated inflation and a strong labor market. Surging crude oil prices limited the downside. Asian markets closed mixed on Wednesday.

Traders also remain concerned about the raging spread of the coronavirus omicron variant across the globe and its impact on the pace of economic recovery from the pandemic.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell claimed during his post-meeting press conference that the central bank has 'quite a bit of room' to raise interest rates before it would harm the economy. He said the Fed is likely to hike interest rates in March and signaled that it would then start reducing its asset holdings.

The Fed left interest rates unchanged at near-zero levels as widely expected but said 'it will soon be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate.' In a separate statement, the Fed outlined plans to significantly reduce the size of its balance sheet, saying it expects to start the reductions after it begins raising interest rates.

The central bank said it would further reduce the pace of its bond purchases to $30 billion per month beginning in February, adding that it expects to end its asset purchase program by early March.

In an effort to combat the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the Fed left interest rates at zero to 0.25 percent since March of 2020 until labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with the FOMC's assessments of maximum employment.

The Australian stock market is significantly lower after being in the green most of the morning session on Thursday, extending the losses in the previous three sessions, with the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 falling below the 6,900 level, following the mixed cues overnight from Wall Street, as weakness in gold miners and technology stocks were partially offset by gains in energy and financial stocks.

Traders are reacting to the hawkish comments from the US Federal Reserve, which indicated that it plans to begin raising interest rates 'soon,' citing elevated inflation and a strong labor market.

Trades also remain concerned about the sharp spike in domestic new coronavirus infections, though off record highs. New South Wales records 17,316 new cases and 29 deaths on Wednesday. Victoria reported 13,755 new cases and 15 deaths, Queensland recorded 11,600 new cases and 15 deaths, Tasmania reported 726 new cases, South Australia reported 1,953 new cases, and ACT reported 884 new cases.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 107.60 points or 1.55 percent to 6,854.40, after hitting a low of 6,758.20 and a high of 7,042.80 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 116.80 points or 1.61 percent to 7,131.30. Australian markets ended sharply lower on Tuesday.

Among major miners, BHP Group and Rio Tinto are gaining almost 3 percent each, while Fortescue Metals is advancing almost 1 percent. OZ Minerals is edging down 0.3 percent and Mineral Resources is plunging more than 5 percent.

Oil stocks are higher. Woodside Petroleum is gaining more than 4 percent, Origin Energy is adding almost 2 percent, Beach Energy is surging almost 10 percent and Santos is advancing almost 4 percent.

Among the big four banks, Commonwealth Bank is edging up 0.2 percent, National Australia Bank is adding almost 1 percent, ANZ Banking is up more than 2 percent and Westpac is advancing more than 1 percent.

In the tech space, Xero is losing almost 5 percent, WiseTech Global is plunging more than 7 percent and Zip is declining more than 5 percent. Appen is edging up 0.2 percent.

Gold miners are weak as gold prices tumbled overnight. Newcrest Mining is losing more than 2 percent, Resolute Mining is declining more than 4 percent, Northern Star Resources is slipping almost 5 percent, Evolution Mining is plunging more than 9 percent and Gold Road Resources is down almost 1 percent.

In other news, shares in Kogan are plunging 11.5 percent after the online retailer posted a 9 percent increase in total gross sales, but a 4.4 percent drop in gross profit.

In economic news, Export prices in Australia were up 3.5 percent on quarter in the fourth quarter of 2021, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday, slowing from 6.2 percent in the three months prior. On a yearly basis, export prices skyrocketed 38.3 percent. Import prices rose 5.8 percent on quarter, up from 5.4 percent in the previous three months. They were up 13.8 percent on year.

In the currency market, the Aussie dollar is trading at $0.708 on Thursday.

The Japanese stock market is sharply lower after paring early gains on Thursday, extending the losses in the previous four sessions, with the benchmark Nikkei 225 plunging almost 700 points to stay above the 26,300 level, following the mixed cues overnight from Wall Street, as the raging spread of the coronavirus omicron variant in the country worsens.

Traders are also reacting to the hawkish comments from the US Federal Reserve, which indicated that it plans to begin raising interest rates 'soon,' citing elevated inflation and a strong labor market.

Trades also remain concerned about the sharp spike in domestic new coronavirus infections, with daily new COVID-19 cases in Japan surging to a new record on Wednesday after it topped the 70,000 mark to push hospitals and clinics to the breaking point. The daily new cases also hit record highs each day since last week.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index closed the morning session at 26,321.33, down 690.00 points or 2.55 percent, after hitting a low of 26,305.51 earlier. Japanese shares ended modestly lower on Wednesday.

Market heavyweight SoftBank Group is plunging more than 6 percent and Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing is losing almost 2 percent. Among automakers, Toyota is losing more than 1 percent, while Honda is edging up 0.2 percent.

In the tech space, Advantest is plunging more than 6 percent, Tokyo Electron is losing more than 4 percent and Screen Holdings is declining almost 5 percent.

In the banking sector, Mizuho Financial is edging down 0.5 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is edging down 0.2 percent, while Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is flat.

The major exporters are lower. Sony is losing almost 6 percent, Mitsubishi Electric is down more than 1 percent and Panasonic is declining almost 3 percent. Canon is flat.

In other news, shares in Japanese Marubeni Corp. are up more than 3 percent after the Japanese trading house said it will sell the grains business of its U.S. unit Gavilon to commodities trader Glencore PLC's Viterra arm for $1.125 billion. Marubeni will retain Gavilon's fertilizer business and some facilities for grain export.

Among the other major losers, CyberAgent is plunging more than 14 percent, Nitto Denko is sliding almost 7 percent, Sumco is losing more than 6 percent and Dowa Holdings is down more than 5 percent, while M3 and Recruit Holdings are declining almost 5 percent each. Toho Zinc and Fujitsu are slipping more than 4 percent each, while Bandai Namco, Nexon and Taiyo Yuden are down almost 4 percent each.

Conversely, Fanuc is gaining almost 4 percent.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the mid-114 yen-range on Thursday.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea is plunging 2.9 percent, Hong Kong is sliding 2.1 percent, New Zealand is losing 1.2 percent and China is slipping 1.1 percent, while Malaysia and Singapore are down 0.2 and 0.5 percent, respectively. Indonesia is bucking the trend and is up 0.2 percent. Taiwan is closed for the start of the Lunar New Year break and is off until February 4.

On Wall Street, stocks were mostly higher for much of the trading session on Wednesday but came under pressure in reaction to the Federal Reserve's highly anticipated monetary policy announcement. The major averages all moved to the downside, although the Nasdaq managed to creep back above the unchanged line.

After surging as much as 3.4 percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq pulled back well off its best levels but still inched up 2.82 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 13,542.12. Meanwhile, the Dow fell 129.64 points or 0.4 percent to 34,168.09 and the S&P 500 dipped 6.52 points or 0.2 percent to 4,349.93.

Meanwhile, the major European markets all moved sharply higher on the day. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index jumped by 1.3 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index surged up by 2.1 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively.

Crude oil futures settled higher on Wednesday as prices climbed amid rising geopolitical tensions. U.S. President Joe Biden has warned Moscow of damaging sanctions, including measures personally targeting President Vladmir Putin, if Russia invades Ukraine. West Texas Intermediate Crude oil futures for March ended higher by $1.75 or 2 percent at $87.35 a barrel, the highest settlement since October 2014.

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TOKYO (dpa-AFX) - The Japanese stock market is sharply lower after paring early gains on Thursday, extending the losses in the previous four sessions, with the benchmark Nikkei 225 staying above the 26,300 level, following the mixed cues overnight from Wall Street, as the raging spread of the coronavirus omicron variant in the country worsens.

Traders are also reacting to the hawkish comments from the US Federal Reserve, which indicated that it plans to begin raising interest rates 'soon,' citing elevated inflation and a strong labor market.

Trades also remain concerned about the sharp spike in domestic new coronavirus infections, with daily new COVID-19 cases in Japan surging to a new record on Wednesday after it topped the 70,000 mark to push hospitals and clinics to the breaking point. The daily new cases also hit record highs each day since last week.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is losing 674.83 points or 2.50 percent to 26,336.50, after hitting a low of 26,305.51 27,217.59 earlier. Japanese shares ended modestly lower on Wednesday.

Market heavyweight SoftBank Group is plunging more than 6 percent and Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing is losing almost 2 percent. Among automakers, Toyota is losing more than 1 percent, while Honda is edging up 0.2 percent.

In the tech space, Advantest is plunging more than 6 percent, Tokyo Electron is losing more than 4 percent and Screen Holdings is declining almost 5 percent.

In the banking sector, Mizuho Financial is edging down 0.5 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is edging down 0.2 percent, while Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is flat.

The major exporters are lower. Sony is losing almost 6 percent, Mitsubishi Electric is down more than 1 percent and Panasonic is declining almost 3 percent. Canon is flat.

In other news, shares in Japanese Marubeni Corp. are up more than 3 percent after the Japanese trading house said it will sell the grains business of its U.S. unit Gavilon to commodities trader Glencore PLC's Viterra arm for $1.125 billion. Marubeni will retain Gavilon's fertilizer business and some facilities for grain export.

Among the other major losers, CyberAgent is plunging more than 14 percent, Nitto Denko is sliding almost 7 percent, Sumco is losing more than 6 percent and Dowa Holdings is down more than 5 percent, while M3 and Recruit Holdings are declining almost 5 percent each. Toho Zinc and Fujitsu are slipping more than 4 percent each, while Bandai Namco, Nexon and Taiyo Yuden are down almost 4 percent each.

Conversely, Fanuc is gaining almost 4 percent.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the mid-114 yen-range on Thursday.

On Wall Street, stocks were mostly higher for much of the trading session on Wednesday but came under pressure in reaction to the Federal Reserve's highly anticipated monetary policy announcement. The major averages all moved to the downside, although the Nasdaq managed to creep back above the unchanged line.

After surging as much as 3.4 percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq pulled back well off its best levels but still inched up 2.82 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 13,542.12. Meanwhile, the Dow fell 129.64 points or 0.4 percent to 34,168.09 and the S&P 500 dipped 6.52 points or 0.2 percent to 4,349.93.

Meanwhile, the major European markets all moved sharply higher on the day. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index jumped by 1.3 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index surged up by 2.1 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively.

Crude oil futures settled higher on Wednesday as prices climbed amid rising geopolitical tensions. U.S. President Joe Biden has warned Moscow of damaging sanctions, including measures personally targeting President Vladmir Putin, if Russia invades Ukraine. West Texas Intermediate Crude oil futures for March ended higher by $1.75 or 2 percent at $87.35 a barrel, the highest settlement since October 2014.

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WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) - OSI Systems Inc. (OSIS) released earnings for second quarter that decreased from the same period last year but beat the Street estimates.

The company's bottom line came in at $19.80 million, or $1.09 per share. This compares with $20.04 million, or $1.10 per share, in last year's second quarter.

Excluding items, OSI Systems Inc. reported adjusted earnings of $23.19 million or $1.28 per share for the period.

Analysts on average had expected the company to earn $1.17 per share, according to figures compiled by Thomson Reuters. Analysts' estimates typically exclude special items.

The company's revenue for the quarter rose 0.2% to $276.68 million from $276.01 million last year.

OSI Systems Inc. earnings at a glance (GAAP) :

-Earnings (Q2): $19.80 Mln. vs. $20.04 Mln. last year.

-EPS (Q2): $1.09 vs. $1.10 last year.

-Analyst Estimates: $1.17

-Revenue (Q2): $276.68 Mln vs. $276.01 Mln last year.

-Guidance:

Full year EPS guidance: $5.75 - $6.02

Full year revenue guidance: $1.160 - $1.195 Bln

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NEW YORK CITY (dpa-AFX) - Blackstone Inc. (BX) Thursday reported net earnings of $1.398 billion or $1.92 per share in the fourth quarter, compared with $748.87 million or $1.07 per share in the same quarter a year ago.

On average, fourteen analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected the company to report earnings of $1.37 per share. Analysts' estimates typically exclude special items.

Revenue for the quarter increased to $5.763 billion from $3.629 billion a year ago.

Total Assets Under Management ('AUM') increased to $880.9 billion from $618.6 billion last year.

Blackstone has declared a quarterly dividend of $1.45 per share to stockholders of record at the close of business on February 7, to be paid on February 14.

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WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) - East West Bancorp (EWBC) released a profit for its fourth quarter that increased from last year but missed the Street estimates.

The company's bottom line totaled $217.80 million, or $1.52 per share. This compares with $164.08 million, or $1.15 per share, in last year's fourth quarter.

Analysts on average had expected the company to earn $1.57 per share, according to figures compiled by Thomson Reuters. Analysts' estimates typically exclude special items.

The company's revenue for the quarter rose 17.1% to $405.70 million from $346.58 million last year.

East West Bancorp earnings at a glance (GAAP) :

-Earnings (Q4): $217.80 Mln. vs. $164.08 Mln. last year.

-EPS (Q4): $1.52 vs. $1.15 last year.

-Analyst Estimate: $1.57

-Revenue (Q4): $405.70 Mln vs. $346.58 Mln last year.

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HARRISON (dpa-AFX) - Mastercard Incorporated (MA) reported earnings for its fourth quarter that increased from the same period last year and beat the Street estimates.

The company's bottom line came in at $2.4 billion, or $2.41 per share. This compares with $1.8 billion, or $1.78 per share, in last year's fourth quarter.

Excluding items, Mastercard Incorporated reported adjusted earnings of $2.3 billion or $2.35 per share for the period.

Analysts on average had expected the company to earn $2.21 per share, according to figures compiled by Thomson Reuters. Analysts' estimates typically exclude special items.

The company's revenue for the quarter rose 26.8% to $5.2 billion from $4.1 billion last year.

Mastercard Incorporated earnings at a glance (GAAP) :

-Earnings (Q4): $2.4 Bln. vs. $1.8 Bln. last year.

-EPS (Q4): $2.41 vs. $1.78 last year.

-Analyst Estimate: $2.21

-Revenue (Q4): $5.2 Bln vs. $4.1 Bln last year.

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OTTAWA (dpa-AFX) - While reporting financial results for the fourth quarter on Thursday, Canadian technology and media company Rogers Communications Inc. (RCI, RCI.TO) provided total service revenue growth guidance for the full-year 2022.

For fiscal 2022, the company now expects total service revenue growth in a range of 4 to 6 percent from C$12.53 billion revenues reported in fiscal 2021.

For the fourth quarter, net income decreased 10 percent to C$405 million or C$0.80 per share from C$500 million or C$0.89 per share in the year-ago quarter. Excluding items, adjusted earnings for the quarter were C$0.96, compared to C$0.99 per share in the prior-year quarter.

Revenue for the quarter grew 6 percent to C$3.92 billion from C$3.68 billion in the same quarter last year.

On Wednesday, the Board declared a dividend of C$0.50 per Class A Share and Class B Non-Voting Share to be paid on April 1, 2022 to shareholders of record on March 10, 2022.

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WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) - Valero Energy Corp. (VLO) reported fourth quarter adjusted net income to stockholders of $1.01 billion, or $2.47 per share, compared to an adjusted loss of $429 million, or $1.06 per share, prior year. On average, 17 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected the company to report profit per share of $1.84, for the quarter. Analysts' estimates typically exclude special items.

Net income to stockholders was $1.01 billion, or $2.46 per share, compared to a net loss of $359 million, or $0.88 per share, a year ago.

Revenue increased to $35.90 billion from $16.60 billion, prior year. Analysts on average had estimated $27.3 billion in revenue.

'We saw continued improvement in our business during the fourth quarter with margins supported by strong product demand,' said Joe Gorder, Valero CEO.

Valero ended 2021 with $13.9 billion of total debt and finance lease obligations and $4.1 billion of cash and cash equivalents.

Shares of Valero Energy were up 2% in pre-market trade on Thursday.

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WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) - Nucor Corp. (NUE) reported earnings for its fourth quarter that increased from last year and beat the Street estimates.

The company's earnings came in at $2.25 billion, or $7.97 per share. This compares with $0.40 billion, or $1.30 per share, in last year's fourth quarter.

Analysts on average had expected the company to earn $7.91 per share, according to figures compiled by Thomson Reuters. Analysts' estimates typically exclude special items.

The company's revenue for the quarter rose 97.0% to $10.36 billion from $5.26 billion last year.

Nucor Corp. earnings at a glance (GAAP) :

-Earnings (Q4): $2.25 Bln. vs. $0.40 Bln. last year.

-EPS (Q4): $7.97 vs. $1.30 last year.

-Analyst Estimate: $7.91

-Revenue (Q4): $10.36 Bln vs. $5.26 Bln last year.

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WALLDORF (dpa-AFX) - The following are some of the stocks making big moves in Thursday's pre-market trading (as of 07.30 A.M. ET).

In the Green

The National Security Group, Inc. (NSEC) is up over 62% at $15.02

Farmmi, Inc. (FAMI) is up over 19% at $0.24

Happiness Development Group Limited (HAPP) is up over 14% at $0.47

AMTD International Inc. (HKIB) is up over 12% at $4.57

ServiceNow, Inc. (NOW) is up over 11% at $538.60

Galapagos NV (GLPG) is up over 10% at $59.04

Qualtrics International Inc. (XM) is up over 10% at $26.73

Mainz Biomed B.V. (MYNZ) is up over 7% at $15.57

The OLB Group, Inc. (OLB) is up over 6% at $1.82

HEXO Corp. (HEXO) is up over 6% at $0.52

Reneo Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (RPHM) is up over 5% at $6.75

In the Red

Epizyme, Inc. (EPZM) is down over 26% at $1.39

Teradyne, Inc. (TER) is down over 15% at $120.69

LendingClub Corporation (LC) is down over 15% at $19.07

Zymeworks Inc. (ZYME) is down over 11% at $8.25

Ebang International Holdings Inc. (EBON) is down over 7% at $1.01

SAP SE (SAP) is down over 6% at $123.75

Vaccinex, Inc. (VCNX) is down over 6% at $1.04

LG Display Co., Ltd. (LPL) is down over 5% at $8.35

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HENRICO COUNTY (dpa-AFX) - Altria Group Inc. (MO) released a profit for fourth quarter that decreased from the same period last year but beat the Street estimates.

The company's earnings totaled $1.62 billion, or $0.88 per share. This compares with $1.92 billion, or $1.03 per share, in last year's fourth quarter.

Excluding items, Altria Group Inc. reported adjusted earnings of $1.99 billion or $1.09 per share for the period.

Analysts on average had expected the company to earn $1.08 per share, according to figures compiled by Thomson Reuters. Analysts' estimates typically exclude special items.

The company's revenue for the quarter fell 0.6% to $6.26 billion from $6.30 billion last year.

Altria Group Inc. earnings at a glance (GAAP) :

-Earnings (Q4): $1.62 Bln. vs. $1.92 Bln. last year.

-EPS (Q4): $0.88 vs. $1.03 last year.

-Analyst Estimates: $1.08

-Revenue (Q4): $6.26 Bln vs. $6.30 Bln last year.

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HENRICO COUNTY (dpa-AFX) - Altria Group, Inc. (MO) reported fourth-quarter adjusted profit per share of $1.09 compared to $0.99, prior year. On average, 14 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected the company to report profit per share of $1.08, for the quarter. Analysts' estimates typically exclude special items. The company said its adjusted EPS increased 10.1%, primarily driven by higher adjusted OCI, favorable net periodic benefit income and fewer shares outstanding, partially offset by higher income taxes.

Net profit was $1.62 billion or $0.88 per share compared to $1.92 billion or $1.03 per share.

Revenue was $6.26 billion compared to $6.30 billion, a year ago. Net revenues decreased 0.8% primarily driven by no net revenues in the wine segment, partially offset by higher net revenues in the financial services business, oral tobacco products and smokeable products segments. Revenues net of excise taxes increased 0.6% to $5.1 billion. Analysts on average had estimated $5.0 billion in revenue.

The company expects 2022 adjusted EPS in a range of $4.79 to $4.93, representing a growth rate of 4% to 7%. Analysts expect the company to report profit per share of $4.84.

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WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) - After reporting a bigger than expected increase in first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits in the previous week, the Labor Department released a report on Thursday showing initial jobless claims pulled back in line with estimates in the week ended January 22nd.

The report said initial jobless claims fell to 260,000, a decrease of 30,000 from the previous week's revised level of 290,000.

Economists had expected jobless claims to drop to 260,000 from the 286,000 originally reported for the previous week.

With the decrease, jobless claims gave back ground after reaching their highest level since the week ended October 16th.

'The recent rise in Covid cases continues to prop up claims, but as new cases decline, we expect claims will continue to gravitate back to 200k or lower, as underlying conditions in the labor market remain extremely tight,' said Nancy Vanden Houten, Lead U.S. Economist at Oxford Economics.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department said the less volatile four-week moving average rose to 247,000, an increase of 15,000 from the previous week's revised average of 232,000.

The report also showed continuing claims, a reading on the number of people receiving ongoing unemployment assistance, climbed by 51,000 to 1.675 million in the week ended January 15th.

The four-week moving average of continuing claims still edged down by 10,750 to 1,651,750 from the previous week's revised average of 1,662,500, hitting the lowest level since August 1973.

'The rise in continued claims may reflect the recent increase in initial claims, which we expect to unwind in the coming weeks,' said Vanden Houten.

She added, 'Looking ahead, we expect continued claims to generally remain at or below 1.70mn as more workers return to the labor market as health conditions improve.'

Next Friday, the Labor Department is scheduled to release its more closely watched monthly employment report for January.

Economists currently expect employment to increase by 238,000 jobs in January after rising by 199,000 jobs in December.

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WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) - Preliminary data released by the Commerce Department on Thursday showed a sharp increase in U.S. economic activity in the fourth quarter of 2021.

The report said real gross domestic product spiked by 6.9 percent in the fourth quarter after jumping by 2.3 percent in the third quarter. Economists had expected GDP to surge up by 5.5 percent.

The Commerce Department said the stronger than expected GDP growth reflected increases in private inventory investment, exports, consumer spending and nonresidential fixed investment.

Decreases in both federal and state and local government spending somewhat limited the upside along with an increase in imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP.

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WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) - Reflecting a sharp pullback in orders for transportation equipment, the Commerce Department released a report on Thursday showing new orders for U.S. manufactured durable goods fell by more than expected in the month of December.

The Commerce Department durable goods orders slumped by 0.9 percent in December after soaring by an upwardly revised 3.2 percent in November.

Economists had expected durable goods orders to decrease by 0.5 percent compared to the 2.6 percent spike that had been reported for the previous month.

Excluding the steep drop in orders for transportation equipment, durable goods orders rose by 0.4 percent in December after jumping by 1.1 percent in November. Ex-transportation orders were expected to increase by 0.5 percent.

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WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) - After reporting a bigger than expected increase in first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits in the previous week, the Labor Department released a report on Thursday showing initial jobless claims pulled back in line with estimates in the week ended January 22nd.

The report said initial jobless claims fell to 260,000, a decrease of 30,000 from the previous week's revised level of 290,000.

Economists had expected jobless claims to drop to 260,000 from the 286,000 originally reported for the previous week.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department said the less volatile four-week moving average rose to 247,000, an increase of 15,000 from the previous week's revised average of 232,000.

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MADRID (dpa-AFX) - Spain's unemployment rate declined in the fourth quarter to the lowest since 2008 as the economy continued to recover, the statistical office INE said on Thursday.

The jobless rate fell to 13.33 percent from 14.57 percent in the third quarter. The rate was the lowest since the third quarter of 2008, when it stood at 11.23 percent.

The rate was forecast to drop moderately to 14.2 percent.

The number of unemployed decreased by 312,900 to 3.103 million in the fourth quarter.

Employment increased by 78,700 in agriculture and by 45,900 in services. In industry, job creation rose by 37,100. Meanwhile, employment in construction declined by 7,700.

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LONDON (dpa-AFX) - UK retail sales declined below seasonal norms in January due to the tightened Covid restrictions amid the spread of the Omicron wave, the Distributive Trades Survey from the Confederation of British Industry showed on Thursday.

A net 23 percent of retailers said sales were seen as poor for the time of the year in January compared to -2 percent in December. This was the biggest fall since March 2021.

About 17 percent said sales are expected to remain below norms in February.

About 28 percent said retail sales grew at an above average pace in the year to January compared to 8 percent in December. The balance for expected sales in February weakened to 24 percent.

'Even as cases fall and Omicron-related restrictions are rowed back, retailers will be looking to the year ahead with a degree of concern,' Ben Jones, lead economist at the CBI, said.

'The sector faces an inflation double whammy, as rising energy and transport costs erode households' spending power and retailers' own costs continue to mount,' Jones added.

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