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What to Watch for in Apple Report; Netflix Flies; KFC Concerns

Hot Stock Minute

Rotten to the core? Or ripe for the picking? Those are the questions surrounding Apple(AAPL) as it prepares to release earnings this afternoon. Right now the stock is fractionally in premarket trading on the NASDAQ. Shares climbed more than 2% yesterday, but were still below $400 each.

Several other companies have already released earnings this morning. Dow component Travelers (TRV) easily beat earnings estimates posting profits of $2.33 a share, though it slightly missed on revenue. Another Dow component, United Technologies (UTX), also beat on earnings, though its revenue was also below the consensus. Radio Shack (RSH) missed and badly, posting losses of 35-cents a share versus estimates of 10-cents. That stock has been down more than 14%.

Netflix (NFLX) has taken flight, with shares up a whopping 24% since the closing bell yesterday. The company clearly impressed with its earnings, posting 31-cents a share when you exclude items. That easily topped estimates of 18-cents, though revenues were right in line with expectations. Netflix is largely crediting "House of Cards" for the beat. The show was the company's biggest foray so far into original programming. Some other highlights of the report: The company says it now has 29.2-million paid subscribers. That's even slightly more than perennial powerhouse HBO. In addition, Netflix will soon offer an option that allows four streams at once aimed at large families. With the gains we're seeing this morning, the stock price has more than doubled this year, and is at its highest level since September 2011.

STOCKS TO WATCH

It's not just Apple. AT&T (T), the first company ever to sell the iPhone, also reports earnings after the closing bell. Analysts are looking for the company to post earning of 64-cents a share, up from 60-cents a year ago, though on a slight drop in revenue. The stock is up almost 11% year-to-date, fueled in part by the fact that it has the largest dividend in the Dow, currently 4.6%. But keep in mind its earning are closely tied to Apple's. The stock closed at its 52-week high yesterday, which is close to $39 a share.

Next is Yum Brands (YUM), which reports also after the closing bell. Key here could be how the company's KFC restaurants in China are doing. As we've previously told you, sales have been down sharply amid concerns about the bird flu. Yum has also been trying to rebuild trust with the public since a TV report late last year said some its suppliers were giving chickens unapproved levels of antibiotics. Yum is down nearly 3% year-to-date, sharply underperforming the market. In the past year it's actually down more than 11%.

We turn now to Microsoft (MSFT) which is currently up slightly in premarket trading on the NASDAQ. Shares leapt more than 3.5% yesterday, giving the company two straight days of sharp gains. Yesterday's rise followed a report from our partner CNBC. The channel says the activist hedge fund "ValueAct" has taken a $2-billion stake in the software maker. The increase puts Microsoft at its highest point since last September and within striking distance of its 52-week high.

Finally, there's Zynga (ZNGA) which spiked after a fake press release. The website PR Urgent posted the bogus release yesterday, saying Chinese firm Baidu was buying Zynga for $10a share. That article was removed from the site after Baidu dismissed the report as false. Zynga shares peaked at almost $16 early last year on the strength of the hit game "Farmville." They now trade at less than 25% of that.

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