Early Market Movers: Microsoft Hikes Dividend, Apple to $520, Netflix Hanging By A Thread, Exxon Sells Assets

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) shares are ticking up in pre-market trading as the company reports a 25% hike in its quarterly dividend.  The company announced late Tuesday that it raised its quarterly dividend from 16 cents to 20 cents a share. Microsoft will also continue to with its $40 billion share buyback program.  The tech sector has shown strength as Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) beat on earnings and Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) raised guidance.  Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) has also raised its target for Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) from $480 to $520.

Investing Insights: Your Cheat Sheet to Oracle and Adobe Earnings >>

After falling like a sharp knife, shares of Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) showed a little strength early this morning as the company expands a licensing deal with Discovery Communications (NASDAQ:DISCA) that will allow it to expand its selection of television shows.  However, Netflix did receive some negative news as Janney cut its price target from $170 to $102.

Hot Feature: Is Netflix the Next Research in Motion?

Rising costs continue to hurt food giants. General Mills (NYSE:GIS) reported a drop in profit from last year as gross margin shrank 5.5 percentage points to 37.6%. Costs rose 19.5% from the year earlier quarter while revenue rose 8.9%.  Earlier this week, ConAgra (NYSE:CAG) also reported a drop in profit as commodity prices rose.

Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) is trading slightly lower after the announcement that Apache (NYSE:APA) has bought a number of Exxon’s U.K. North Sea assets for $1.75 billion in a cash deal.  Apache’s production is estimated to rise 54% in the region, along with boosting reserves by 44%.

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