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Pre-Market Primer: Stock Futures Lower as Mega-Bank Earnings Surge; Retail Sales Disappoint

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JPMorgan Chase is more profitable than ever.

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Stocks were set to decline today as bank earnings beat expectations and the government reported that retail sales fell last month.

Retail sales in March unexpectedly fell 0.4% after a 1.1% rise in February. Economists expected sales to stay flat. The lower retail sales might be attributed to lower gas prices, public workers on furlough due to sequester cuts, or consumers feeling the pain of higher payroll taxes.

Producer prices for finished goods fell 0.6% in March after rising 0.7% in February. Excluding food and energy, prices rose 0.2%.

The University of Michigan/Reuters consumer sentiment index for April will come out later today. The index is expected to rise to 79 from 78.6 in March. Business inventories also show a rise of 0.4% in February after a 1% gain in January.

JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) shares will be in focus as the bank beat earnings expectations. Earnings per share rose 33% to an all-time high of $1.59, exceeding forecasts by $0.20.

"We are seeing positive signs that the economy is healthy and getting stronger. Housing prices continued to improve and new home purchases are also starting to come back," said CEO Jamie Dimon. "We also saw strong performance in our credit card portfolio, with net charge-offs remaining near historic lows, another sign that consumers are healthier and more confident."

The nation's largest lender also reduced allowance for loan losses on the lower risk of consumer default. The bank will raise its dividend by 27% to $0.38 per share.

Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) also posted a strong quarter with profit rising 22% to $0.92 per share, beating estimates of $0.88. The increase in profit largely came from cutting costs as loan demand fell.

European stocks are down sharply as the Eurogroup finance ministers met to discuss extending loan terms for Ireland and Portugal and to finalize the bailout of Cyprus. A Cyprus government official said that the country will ask for an additional 10 billion euros in aid, however. The threat of a fresh financial crisis in Slovenia might also be on the agenda.

Eurozone factory output climbed 0.4% on a monthly basis in February, surpassing estimates. On a yearly basis though, production fell 3.1%.

The hot rally on Japanese stocks got a vote of confidence from Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) analysts who said that the Nikkei (INDEXNIKKEI:.NI225) should rise 20% in 12 months. Goldman hiked its price target on the Japanese index by 1,000 points to 16,000.

The Dow (INDEXDJX:.DJI) and S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX) both broke record highs yesterday. This morning, futures are pointing south. Dow futures are down 0.26% at 14,758 and S&P futures sank 0.31% to 1,582.70. Nasdaq (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) futures retreated 0.40% to 2,841.75.

Beleaguered retailer JC Penney (NYSE:JCP) hired Blackstone (NYSE:BX), the private equity firm, to help it raise much-needed $1 billion to cover its needs through the year.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will speak at a community development conference in Washington this afternoon.

Twitter: @vincent_trivett
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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