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Pre-Market Primer: Stocks Rise as Congress Prepares for Sequester Debate

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And Berlusconi is set to retake his seat as prime minister.

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Stock futures were higher this morning as investors prepare for another period of partisan bickering in Washington over the budget sequester.

Index futures hinted that stocks might rally today. Dow (INDEXDJX:.DJI) futures are up 0.24% at 13,959. Futures on the S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX) gained 0.26% to 1,516.30 and Nasdaq (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) futures rose 0.19% to 2,777.25. No major economic announcements are due out today.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) shares fell 0.85% to $778.80 after Chairman Eric Schmidt revealed in a regulatory filing that he will sell nearly half of his shares in the company over the course of a year. Schmidt owns 7.6 million shares of Google and plans to sell 3.2 million shares worth over $2.5 billion.

Over the weekend, the New York Times and other outlets reported that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is working on a computing device that could be worn like a wristwatch, running the same software platform as the iPhone.

Nike (NYSE:NKE) shares rose 2.22% to $55.80 after JPMorgan Chase analysts upgraded the apparel company's shares to buy from neutral.

Today, the Eurogroup of finance ministers, now headed by Jeroen Dijsselbloem of the Netherlands, discussed bailing out Cyprus. The island country is seeking a 17 billion rescue package, mostly to recapitalize its banks. The current Communist president has so far rejected market reforms tied to the possible bailout. Despite Germany's earlier opposition to rescuing a country that its finance minister doesn't deem systemically significant, the European Central Bank expressed hope that the package would be delivered by the end of March. Cypriots vote for their next president on Feb. 17.

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party's chances of winning the Feb. 24-25 elections are increasing. Berlusconi, who is promising to cut taxes and pay back unpopular taxes in cash, is ahead of centrist Luigi Bersani by 5 percentage points.

French industrial production fell 0.1% in December 2012, down from a gain of 0.5% in the month before, 2.1% down from December 2011. Over the quarter, output fell 1.8%, or 3.1% from the fourth quarter in the year before.

China surpassed the United States as the number-one trading nation in 2012. China's imports and exports were worth $3.87 trillion, compared to America's $3.82 trillion.

Top Republicans and Democrats clashed over fiscal policy on Sunday's talk shows. On Meet the Press, Senator Dick Durbin insisted that to replace the sequester, the automatic spending reductions and tax increases set for March 1, Congress must adopt both spending cuts and revenue increases. Later, on the same show, Representative Eric Cantor again pressed against tax increases.

The issue of the sequester is likely to be a topic in President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech tomorrow night.

Twitter: @vincent_trivett
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