Stock futures rise slightly as corporate acquisitions again become market’s focus

Stock futures rose slightly Monday as investors welcomed a fresh round of corporate deals.

Asian markets surged Monday in their first trading session following an upbeat U.S. jobs report Friday. European markets fell slightly. U.S. stocks rallied last week on encouraging economic data, including a better-than-expected employment report, and a new wave of corporate dealmaking.

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The recent surge in corporate mergers and acquisitions continued Monday. Insurer American International Group Inc. reached a deal to sell one of its major foreign subsidiaries to MetLife Inc. for $15.5 billion. The deal, though, wasn’t a surprise. MetLife had confirmed last month it was in talks with AIG to buy the unit known as Alico.

It’s the second major sale AIG has made this month as part of its plans to streamline operations, shed assets and repay more than $100 billion in government bailout money it received during the credit crisis.

Royal Dutch Shell and PetroChina have offered to buy Australia’s Arrow Energy Ltd. for $3 billion in cash and stock. Royal Dutch Shell already owns a 10 percent stake in Arrow’s international business.

Ahead of the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 5, or 0.1 percent, to 10,550. Standard & Poor’s 500 index futures rose 0.30, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,136.80, while Nasdaq 100 index futures rose 1.75, or 0.1 percent, to 1,887.25.

With little economic data due out during the first half of this week and earnings results slowing to a trickle, investors will be looking for other cues to give the market direction.

Investors will get a handful of economic reports toward the end of the week that should provide some insight into the health of the economy. Reports on wholesale and business inventories, retail sales and consumer sentiment are all scheduled for release beginning Wednesday and running through the rest of the week.

Major indexes all jumped more than 1 percent on Friday after the Labor Department said employers cut fewer jobs in February than predicted. The unemployment rate also held steady at 9.7 percent. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters forecast it would rise to 9.8 percent.

The encouraging signs in the report have investors hopeful that employers will start to add jobs in the coming months. High unemployment has been a major stumbling block to a strong, sustained recovery.

If more people can return to the work force, that should help boost consumer spending, which is the primary driver of economic activity in the country.

Meanwhile, bond prices fell Monday. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.72 percent from 3.69 percent late Friday.

The dollar fell against other major currencies, while gold prices were little changed.

Overseas, Japan‘s Nikkei stock average rose 2.1 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose less than 0.1 percent, Germany’s DAX index rose less than 0.1 percent, and France’s CAC-40 rose less than 0.1 percent.

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