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Pre-Market: UPS Christmas Shipping Delays Prompt Amazon Refunds, Gift Cards

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US jobless claims dropped by 42,000.

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Stock futures rose this morning as the government reported that unemployment claims fell sharply last week.

Initial claims for unemployment fell by 42,000 last week to 338,000. In the week before, claims spiked by 10,000 to 380,000, following a jump of 74,000 in the week prior. The less volatile 4-week moving average rose slightly to 348,000.

Futures contracts on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEXDJX:.DJI) gained 0.26% to 16,346.00 before the opening bell. If the index rises today, it will reach the 50th record high this year. After closing at a fresh record yesterday, futures on the S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX) rose 0.13% to 1,831.50. Nasdaq (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) futures climbed 0.14% to 3,574.75. Though markets are open all day today, trading volume will probably be lower as traders observe Christmas.

A huge surge in last-minute shopping left United Parcel Service (NYSE:UPS) unable to deliver some packages guaranteed to arrive by Christmas. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) is offering $20 gift cards to customers affected by the shipping snafu. Amazon said that UPS systems told customers that some orders would be processed in time for holiday delivery when in fact, they could not be. Late delivery affected customers at eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), Kohl's (NYSE:KSS), Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), and other online retailers. UPS rival FedEx (NYSE:FDX) was also overwhelmed, but didn't experience significant delays. Shares of Amazon rose 0.33% in the pre-market and UPS rose 0.13%.

More reports are surfacing that say Japan's Softbank (OTCMKTS:SFTBF), which recently acquired Sprint (NYSE:S), is on the verge of consolidating the world's second-largest mobile carrier by revenue. Sprint is lining up financing for about $20 billion to buy T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) from Deutsch Telekom (OTCMKTS:DTEGY). If the merger takes place, Softbank will be bigger than AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ).

Japan's Nikkei (INDEXNIKKEI:NI225) broke through the milestone level of 16,000 for the first time since 2007 today as the yen weakened. Tax-free investment accounts that make stocks more attractive for retail investors play a role in the rise. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine, where all fallen Japanese soldiers, including major war criminals, are effectively worshiped. Abe said that he prayed for peace. This will go over well with his far-right base, but China and Korea expressed disgust that he went there.

China estimates that growth slowed to 7.6% in 2013 from 7.7% in 2012. China's GDP narrowly exceeded the government's 7.5% goal.

Twitter: @vincent_trivett
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