(For more market insights, including options activity, click on ; for the Day Ahead newsletter link.reuters.com/mex49s; for the Morning News Call newsletter, link.reuters.com/nex49s) U.S. stock index futures turned positive after an industry report showed U.S. manufacturing activity accelerated in February at its fastest pace in nearly four years. Dow Jones industrial average futures were up 0.09 percent at 16,030, S&P 500 futures were up 0.08 percent at 1,827 and Nasdaq 100 futures were up 0.03 percent at 3,655.75.
** FACEBOOK INC, Wednesday close $68.06, -0.87 pct premarket
** BLACKBERRY LTD, Wednesday close $9.01, +5.33 pct premarket
The world’s largest social network will buy fast-growing mobile-messaging startup WhatsApp for $19 billion in cash and stock in a landmark deal that places the company closer to the heart of mobile communications and may bring younger users into the fold. But many balked at the price tag.
Facebook is paying $42 per user with the deal, dwarfing its own $33 per user cost of acquiring Instagram. By comparison, Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten just bought messaging service Viber for $3 per user, in a $900 million deal.
However, some analysts said the deal made strategic sense as it will solidify the company’s position as a leader in mobile.
For a graphic on price paid per user, (link.reuters.com/mej96v)
The stunning bid sent shares of BlackBerry Ltd surging after the closing bell on Wednesday because it put a rough valuation metric around the Canadian smartphone maker’s own BlackBerry Messaging service.
** WAL-MART STORES INC, Wednesday close $74.85, -2.61 pct premarket
The world’s largest retailer gave a profit forecast for the year that missed analyst expectations and said sales growth would be hurt by reduced government benefits, higher taxes and tighter credit this year.
** PEPSICO INC, Wednesday close $77.1, +0.52 pct premarket
Activist Investor Nelson Peltz renewed his crusade to convince the company’s board to spin off its slow-growing beverage business from its flourishing snacks division, less than a week after the company poured cold water on the idea.
** TESLA MOTORS INC, Wednesday close $193.64, +10.83 pct premarket
** KANDI TECHNOLOGIES GROUP INC, Wednesday close $13.35, +4.72 pct premarket
Tesla Motors, led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, posted better-than-expected fourth-quarter results on Wednesday and said deliveries of its luxury Model S electric sedan would surge more than 55 percent this year.
At least three brokerages raised their target price on the company’s stock on Thursday. Jefferies & Co raised its target price to $220 from $190, while J.P. Morgan Securities raised the target price to $137 from $115. Robert W. Baird & Co raised the target price to $245 from $215.
Shares of the Chinese electric vehicle maker, Kandi, also rose.
** SAFEWAY INC, Wednesday close $34.61, +4.74 pct premarket
** BLACKHAWK NETWORK HOLDINGS INC, Wednesday close $28.08, -15.06 pct premarket
The second-largest U.S. mainstream grocery store operator, said on Wednesday it is in talks about a possible sale of the company. Safeway has been trying to streamline its business by selling off non-core units.
It spun off its gift card provider, Blackhawk Network Holdings, into a separate publicly traded company, selling a 19 percent stake. It also sold off its Canadian operations to Empire Co Ltd, the operator of Canadian retailer Sobeys, for $5.8 billion in cash.
Separately, Blackhawk Network reported fourth-quarter earnings of 81 cents, missing analysts’ average estimate as higher costs and marketing expenses hurt margins.
** NOKIA CORP, Wednesday close $7.27, -0.14 pct premarket
** JUNIPER NETWORKS INC, Wednesday close $27.2, +1.91 pct premarket
Finland’s Nokia is considering buying the U.S.-based network gear maker to merge it with its unit Nokia Solutions and Networks, German online publication Manager Magazin Online reported, citing unnamed sources.
** WALTER ENERGY INC, Wednesday close $11.06, +3.07 pct premarket
The coal miner reported a smaller-than-expected adjusted quarterly loss as costs to produce steel-making coal, the company’s main product, declined.
** APPLE INC, Wednesday close $537.37, -0.65 pct premarket
Barclays downgraded the stock to “equalweight” from “overweight” on Thursday, saying that the company’s shares may stick close to a trading range for the next year given a maturing smartphone market.
“We just couldn’t quite bring ourselves to use smart watches or TVs as reasons to raise numbers - nor were we fully convinced that these products could move the needle like new categories did in the old days,” analysts at Barclays said in a note to clients.
“Apple could even see margin pressures as it adds advanced new features to new iPhones at similar price points later this year and into next.”
** ONCONOVA THERAPEUTICS INC, Wednesday close $13.86, -39.90 pct premarket
The company said its experimental blood disorder drug did not meet the main goal of a late-stage trial. Rigosertib, the company’s lead drug, is being studied as a potential treatment for patients with a higher risk of myelodysplastic syndromes who had not responded to prior therapy.
The company’s shares fell 45 percent in extended trading on Wednesday.
** RAPTOR PHARMACEUTICAL CORP, Wednesday close $14.92, +17.16 pct premarket
The drug maker said its experimental brain disorder drug slowed the loss of muscle control in patients with Huntington’s disease after 18 months of treatment.
** CONN’S INC, Wednesday close $55.8, -36.65 pct premarket
The electronics and home appliance retailer cut its profit forecast for the current financial year, citing higher bad debts and weaker sales growth for televisions and other electronics.
** IAMGOLD CORP, Wednesday close $4.06
The Canadian miner swung to a quarterly loss as gold prices fell, and said its capital spending in 2014 would be 40 percent lower than last year as it had completed the expansion of a mine in West Africa.
** BANK OF AMERICA CORP, Wednesday close $16.2, +0.25 pct premarket
** AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL GROUP INC, Wednesday close $49.25, +0.16 pct premarket
A New York state judge declined to delay court approval of Bank of America’s $8.5 billion settlement with investors in mortgage-backed securities, rejecting a move by American International Group.
** PORTFOLIO RECOVERY ASSOCIATES INC, Wednesday close $50.48, +10.24 pct premarket
The company said it would buy Norway’s Aktiv Kapital AS for about $880 million to expand its fee-based debt collection services in Europe. The company also reported a higher-than-expected rise in fourth-quarter profit.
** COEUR MINING INC, Wednesday close $11.28, +0.62 pct premarket
The silver miner reported a fourth-quarter loss due to a $773 million charge it took to write down the value of its Palmarejo silver-gold mine in Mexico and the Kensington gold mine in Alaska.
** MERCK & CO INC, Wednesday close $55.04, -0.18 pct premarket
** NOVARTIS AG, Wednesday close $81.76, +0.12 pct premarket
A handful of consumer and healthcare companies including Bayer AG and Novartis are exploring a deal for Merck & Co Inc’s consumer healthcare business, as they seek to gain scale in a fragmented industry, according to several people familiar with the matter.
** DIRECTV, Wednesday close $72.94, +1.80 pct premarket
The largest U.S. satellite TV company reported fourth-quarter results above analysts’ estimates as it made more from each subscriber in the United States, and the company authorized a $3.5 billion share repurchase program.
** AVG TECHNOLOGIES, Wednesday close $17.31, +5.66 pct premarket
The anti-virus software maker on Wednesday reported fourth-quarter revenue above analysts’ average estimate, helped by a 25 percent jump in subscription revenue and strong growth in mobiles.
** HOMEAWAY INC, Wednesday close $42.96, +6.05 pct premarket
The vacation rental company reported fourth-quarter revenue above analysts’ estimates due to a rise in paid listings.
** TRINITY INDUSTRIES INC, Wednesday close $60.75, +6.58 pct premarket
The maker of railcars late on Wednesday reported fourth-quarter results that beat analysts’ average estimate as sales at its rail group business rose 49 percent.
The company also forecast FY 2014 profit of $6.30-$7.00 per share and first-quarter profit of $2.45-$2.65 per share. Analysts on average were expecting FY 2014 earnings of $6.02 per share and first-quarter profit of $2.05, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
** YANDEX NV, Wednesday close $39.83, -5.57 pct premarket
Russia’s biggest search engine said on Thursday it expects revenues to grow by 25-30 percent this year, a slowing from the growth achieved in 2013.
** PENN VIRGINIA CORP, Wednesday close $12.91, -4 pct after market
The oil and gas producer on Wednesday forecast 2014 product revenues below analysts’ average estimate after reporting lower revenue in the fourth quarter due to a decline in selling prices. Product revenues, excluding the impact of any hedges, are expected to be $587 million to $630 million this year, below the average analyst estimate of $655 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
** DIAMONDBACK ENERGY INC, Wednesday close $61.04
The U.S. oil and gas company on Thursday made its second purchase in the Permian basin of Texas in as many days, buying 1,858 net acres of producing assets for about $114.3 million. Diamondback, which did not disclose the seller, on Tuesday agreed to buy 2,825 net acres in the region for $174 million.
The company also said it would offer 3 million shares in a public offering and use the proceeds to fund the purchases.
** JACK IN THE BOX INC, Wednesday close $53.47, +2.67 pct premarket
The San Diego-based restaurant chain on Wednesday reported first-quarter results that beat analysts’ estimates, helped by growth in same-store sales at its Jack in the Box and Qdoba Mexican Grill outlets.
Barclays Capital raised its price target on the company’s stock to $49 from $47 on Thursday.
** GOODRICH PETROLEUM CORP, Wednesday close $15.29, -13.73 pct premarket
The oil and gas producer reported a larger-than-expected loss for the fourth quarter as production was hurt by drilling delays at the Tuscaloosa Marine shale field located in Louisiana and Mississippi.
** RUBICON TECHNOLOGY INC, Wednesday close $10.8, -3 pct after market
The company, which supplies sapphire substrates and products to the LED, semiconductor and optical markets, forecast first-quarter revenue slightly below analysts’ estimates due to a slowing LED backlighting market.
** MILLENNIAL MEDIA INC, Wednesday close $7.2, -11.11 pct aftermarket
The company, which helps mobile app developers and advertisers to focus on smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices, forecast first-quarter revenue below analysts’ expectations and an adjusted core loss of $5 million to $6 million.
Evercore analysts cut their price target on the stock to $9 from $10, but maintained their ‘overweight’ rating.
** INFOBLOX INC, Wednesday close $19.19, +4.22 pct premarket
Goldman Sachs raised its rating on the network equipment maker’s stock to “buy” from “neutral”, according to Theflyonthewall.com.
** KAYNE ANDERSON MLP INVESTMENT CO, Wednesday close $38.81, -5.15 pct premarket
The investment company priced its offering of 8 million shares at $37.05 per share, a 4.5 percent discount to the stock’s Wednesday closing price.
by Shailaja Sharma in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila