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Pre-Market Primer: Stocks Flat, Gold Slumps Ahead of FOMC Minutes

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Today is a big day for the housing market.

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Stocks were little changed this morning and gold futures took a dive ahead of the release of the latest Fed policy meeting notes.

Dow (INDEXDJX:.DJI) futures were up 0.01% at 14,010. Futures contracts on the S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX) declined 0.05% to 1,527.20 and Nasdaq (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) futures slipped 0.07% to 2,778.75.

Gold futures fell 0.93% to 1,589.40 per ounce, the lowest price for the precious metal since Aug. 15, 2012 as the stock market steals the yellow metal's appeal. Also weighing on the price of gold is the improving economy, which makes safe-haven assets less attractive. Later today, investors will comb through the latest meeting notes from the Federal Open Markets Commission for clues about the winding down of quantitative easing, a monetary policy that has supported gold prices. The January FOMC minutes will be available at 2:00 p.m. EST.

US builders broke ground on fewer homes than expected in January. Housing starts fell 8.5% to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 890,000, missing expectations of 914,000. Permits exceeded expectations, however, rising to 925,000. After falling 0.2% in December, the producer price index rose 0.2%, just short of expectations for a 0.3% rise.

Industrial orders in Italy fell 1.8% on a monthly basis in December 2012 after dropping 0.6% in November. From the year-before period, orders were down 15.3%.

Japan reported that in January, exports rose 6.4% over the year before, beating expectations. Exports to Europe continued to fall. Imports grew faster at 7.3%, largely due to energy imports and a weaker yen, and the country's trade deficit widened to a record 1.63 trillion yen. Though the yen is still higher than Japanese exporters would like, it is slowly weakening, making the country's wares more attractive.

Luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers (NYSE:TOL) swung to a profit last quarter thanks to the recovering housing market, but still missed analysts' expectations. The company earned $0.03 per share on $424.6 million of revenue as orders rose 49%. TOL is looking to capitalize on the burgeoning rental market as well, building apartment buildings in several metropolitan areas.

This morning, OfficeMax (NYSE:OMX) and Office Depot (NYSE:ODP) confirmed reports that they will merge. The transaction will be completely in stock. The companies hope that this strategic merger will give them a leg up on competition from Staples (NASDAQ:SPLS) and online retailers such as Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN)

Dell's (NASDAQ:DELL) shares rose slightly in after-hours trading after the soon-to-be-private company reported that net profit fell 31% in the fourth quarter. Earnings per share fell to $0.04 and revenue fell 11% to $14.31 billion. The company's earnings exceeded expectations, perhaps giving investors unsatisfied with the $24.4 billion buyout price a bargaining chip.

Herbalife (NYSE:HLF), the multi-level marketer under the microscope of a short sell, beat earnings expectations and raised its profit guidance for 2013. Revenue increased 20% yearly to $1.1 billion, and profit rose to $1.05 per share. The company now expects to earn $4.65 per share this year.

Twitter: @vincent_trivett
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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