* Yum shares fall on shrinkage of sales in China
* Monsanto stock jumps after strong earnings, raised outlook
* Sears says CEO to step down, shares rise
* Futures off: Dow 20 pts, S&P 2.5 pts, Nasdaq 1 pt
By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK, Jan 8 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were set to tick
lower at the open on Tuesday as an earnings season expected to
show sluggish corporate growth gets under way.
Profits in the fourth quarter are seen above the previous
quarter's lackluster results, but analysts' current estimates
are down sharply from where they were in October. Quarterly
earnings are expected to grow by 2.8 percent, according to
Thomson Reuters data.
German data showed industrial orders fell more than forecast
in November due to a sharp drop in demand from abroad,
reinforcing concerns that Europe's largest economy may have
contracted in the fourth quarter of 2012.
"I'm surprised futures are holding up, given the relative
disappointment that German data showed, but I think all eyes are
on the beginning of earnings season," said Kim Forrest, senior
equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in
Monsanto Co shares rose 4 percent to $99.81 in premarket
trading after the world's largest seed company raised its
earnings outlook for fiscal 2013 and posted strong first-quarter
Education provider Apollo Group and Dow component
Alcoa Inc, the largest U.S. aluminum producer, round out
the start of earnings season after the closing bell.
"Alcoa is not a huge bellwether," Fort Pitt Capital's
Forrest said, adding investors are focused more on companies'
performance than on macroeconomic factors, so "we should be kind
of flat until we get some company-oriented news."
S&P 500 futures were off 2.5 points and below fair
value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account
interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the
contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures were off
20 points and Nasdaq 100 futures dropped 1 point.
Shares of restaurant-chain operator Yum Brands Inc
fell 4.3 percent to $65 a day after the KFC parent warned sales
in China, its largest market, shrank more than expected in the
London-traded Vodafone shares rose almost 3 percent
after its partner in U.S. joint venture Verizon Wireless said it
would be "feasible" to buy out the British group. U.S.-traded
Vodafone stock dipped 0.8 percent.
Sears Holdings shares rose 2.5 percent to $44 in
premarket trading a day after the company said its chief
executive will step down for family health reasons. The U.S.
retailer also reported a 1.8 percent decline in quarter-to-date
sales at stores open at least a year.
GameStop shares fell 8.1 percent to $22.75 before
the open after it reported sales for the holiday season and cut
ConAgra Foods Inc priced a public offering of 8.1
million common shares at $29.75 per share, the foodmaker said on
Monday. ConAgra closed at $30.17 during regular Monday trading.