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U.S. Stock-Index Futures Rise as Comcast Climbs on Netflix Deal

Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. stock-index futures gained, after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed within 1 percent of its record, as investors bet that the economy can withstand the slowing down of the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying program.

Comcast Corp. added 1.5 percent in pre-market trading in New York as people familiar with the matter said Netflix Inc. agreed to pay for direct access to the cable company’s broadband network. Netflix lost 1.7 percent. UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Humana Inc. led health insurers lower after the close of regular New York trading as the U.S. government proposed cutting payments made under the Medicare Advantage program for 2015.

Futures on the S&P 500 expiring next month increased 0.3 percent to 1,839.3 at 7:12 a.m. in New York. The equity benchmark fell 0.1 percent last week, leaving it 0.7 percent from its record and its level at the end of last year. Dow Jones Industrial Average contracts added 33 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,126 today.

“You can see the underlying strength of the market because the S&P 500 is so close to its all-time high, but investors are not complacent,” Heinz-Gerd Sonnenschein, an equity-market strategist atDeutsche Postbank AG, said by phone from Bonn, Germany. “We’re in a bullish but healthy market. We still need to see hard data confirming the state of the U.S. economy. The Fed has hinted that growth is on the right track, and it’s important that the latest figures support that.”

The S&P 500 slumped as much as 5.8 percent after reaching the highest level since its inception on Jan. 15 as investor concern about continued cuts in the Fed’s monthly asset purchases fueled a rout in emerging markets. The index has rebounded 5.4 percent from its low on Feb. 3.

Fed Stimulus

Fed Chair Janet Yellen said this month that the economy has strengthened enough to withstand stimulus cuts, adding that only a notable change to the outlook would prompt the central bank to slow the pace of tapering. The Commerce Department publishes its revised estimate for fourth-quarter growth on Friday. The report will probably show that gross domestic product expanded 2.5 percent at an annualized pace, less than the government had forecast, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Comcast added 1.5 percent to $51.83. Netflix, the world’s largest subscription video-streaming service, agreed to pay Comcast millions of dollars annually to deliver its content with better quality and speed, said one of the three people, who asked not to be identified because the terms are private. The companies announced a multiyear agreement in a statement yesterday without disclosing the terms. Netflix slipped 1.7 percent to $425 in early New York trading.

Chesapeake Energy

Chesapeake Energy Corp. climbed 1.5 percent to $26.98 after the second-largest U.S. natural gas producer said it plans to either sell or spin off its oilfield-services unit. About 35 percent of the unit’s drilling rigs work for companies other than its parent, according to a statement.

UnitedHealth slipped 1.8 percent to $72.50, while Humana dropped 4.5 percent to $98.17. Health insurers participating in the program for elderly Americans face a payment cut of about 3.55 percent next year, the U.S. government said on Feb. 21. The industry still has to negotiate over the reductions, which only become final on April 7. Aetna Inc., the third-biggest U.S. insurer, lost 1.3 percent to $69.50.

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