U.S. stock index futures were mostly higher on Friday, helped by strong results from General Electric and Morgan Stanley, but hindered as United Parcel Service lowered its guidance. The Commerce Department reported U.S. housing starts fell 9.8 percent in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 999,000-unit pace. Economists expected the number to fall to 990,000. General Electric, an industrial giant and Dow component, posted earnings in line with expectations. Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley beat analyst estimates by a mile. Goldman Sachs and Citigroup reported profit falls on Thursday. Analysts polled by Reuters expect Morgan Stanley to report earnings per share (EPS) of $0.45 on revenue of $8.0 billion, up on EPS of $0.25 on revenue of $7.5 billion for the same period a year before. Other stocks worth watching include Apple, as China Mobile launched its long-awaited sale of iPhones on Friday. China Mobile has the world’s biggest network of cell phone users. In a sign of just how important the deal is, Apple CEO Tim Cook has been in Beijing this week for the launch. Data showing consumer confidence weakened in December also hit sentiment. Brent crude oil narrowly reversed from a two-month low near $105 a barrel, on Friday but remained on course to finish down for the week as traders assessed the likelihood of a sustained recovery in supply from Libya. Brent’s premium over U.S. crude also fell to its lowest in almost a month, as the start-up of a major pipeline next week is expected to help ease a bottleneck in the Midwest and let more fast-rising shale production flow to Gulf Coast refineries. Brent crude for March delivery, which became the front-month contract following the expiry of the February contract on Thursday, rose 50 cents to trade above $106 a barrel, bouncing off a two-month low of $105.44. Front-month Brent is on course for a weekly decline of around 1 percent. U.S. crude rose 70 cents, holding below $95 a barrel and was set to post its first weekly gain in three weeks. Gold was holding steady on Friday but was headed for its first weekly drop in four weeks as a string of U.S. data showed more strength in the recovery of the world’s largest economy, dimming the metal’s safe-haven appeal. The dollar pushed higher on Friday and Asian stocks clawed their way off session lows, also weighing on gold. Spot gold was nearly flat at $1,239 an ounce, and was heading for a 0.5 percent drop for the week.
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