Before the Bell: Zelensky Addresses Congress, Bankman-Fried’s Friends Flip, Under Armour Hires New CEO

Premarket action Thursday had all three major U.S. indexes trading slightly lower. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.21%, the S&P 500 down 0.18% and the Nasdaq 0.22% lower.

All 11 market sectors closed higher Wednesday, with industrials (1.85%) and financials (1.7%) gaining the most. Consumer staples (0.82%) posted the day’s smallest gain. The Dow closed up 1.6%, the S&P 500 up 1.49% and the Nasdaq up 1.54%.

Dow component Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE) pasted on a 12.2% surge following a better-than-expected earnings report, and FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) posted a gain of 3.4% on a less impressive report. But both seemed to give investors hope that a Santa Clause rally still has a chance to put a positive end to what has been a dreadful year for stocks. The 7.7% decline in existing home sales was sharply worse than expected, marking the 10th consecutive month of falling sales. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index jumped from an upwardly revised 101.4 in October to 108.3 in November. Crude oil posted most of its 3% gain for the day before the inventory report showed a decline of 5.9 million barrels in U.S. stockpiles.

In economic news Thursday, the third and final estimate of third-quarter GDP will be released before U.S. markets open. Economists expect to see year-over-year growth of 2.9%, equal to the second estimate posted in November. The GDP price deflator is expected to show an increase of 4.3%, equal to October’s increase.

The weekly report on new claims for unemployment benefits also is due before markets open. Economists are looking for new claims to total 225,000, up from last week’s total of 211,000. They also expect little change in the four-week average of 1.625 million continuing claims for benefits.

The Energy Information Administration releases its report on the nation’s natural gas inventories after markets open Thursday. Natural gas prices rose 4% on Wednesday, as a brutal cold snap moved into the northern Rockies and continues on its way into the Midwest and Southeast Thursday. Last week, natural gas inventories fell by 50 billion cubic feet, and analysts polled by The Wall Street Journal expect a draw of 92 billion feet for last week. That is above last year’s withdrawal of 60 billion cubic feet but below the five-year average of 124 billion cubic feet.

After U.S. markets closed Thursday, chipmaker Micron Technology Inc. (NASDAQ: MU) posted an adjusted loss per share of $0.04, worse than the estimated two-cent loss expected by analysts. Revenue also fell short of estimates and was down almost 47% year over year. The stock was down about 2.5% in premarket trading Thursday.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke for about 25 minutes Wednesday before a joint session of Congress attended by less than half of Republican representatives. Zelensky both thanked the United States for its support for his country and, gently, asked for more. His wish is likely to be granted as Congress prepares to vote on a bill approving $1.7 trillion in annual spending through next September and including almost $45 billion in military and other aid to Ukraine.

Late on Wednesday, FTX co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried, aka SBF, arrived in New York and will face a federal judge in Manhattan to answer criminal charges (and likely seek release on bail) related to the collapse of FTX’s cryptocurrency exchange and SBF’s hedge fund, Alameda Research. Caroline Ellison, CEO of Alameda, and FTX co-founder Gary Wang, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to fraud and other charges and are cooperating with federal investigators looking into FTX’s collapse.

According to a report in the Financial Times, Ellison pleaded guilty to wire and securities fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, among other things, that carry collective sentences of up to 110 years in prison, while Wang pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud and faced up to 50 years in prison.

Sports apparel maker Under Armour Inc. (NYSE: UAA) has named a new president and chief executive, Stephanie Linnartz, who is currently the president of Marriott International. She replaces Patrik Frisk, who resigned in May. Linnartz certainly has her work cut out for her. Under Armour’s stock had dropped by nearly 65% this year before recovering to a current loss of around 50%. The downturn, like so many others in retailing, was caused by bloated inventories, sharp markdowns and consumer fickleness. Linnartz is expected to boost Under Armour’s drive into digital sales and customer loyalty. Under Armour’s stock added about 4.5% on Wednesday and traded up 3% in Thursday’s premarket session.

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