* Major indexes on track for strong weekly gains
* U.S. and Russia engage in tit-for-tat sanctions
* Nike shares fall in premarket after outlook
* Futures up: Dow 20 pts, S&P 4.2 pts, Nasdaq 9.5 pts
(Updates prices and adds Media General deal)
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, March 21 U.S. stock index futures
pointed to a slightly higher open on Friday, with major indexes
on track for a week of strong gains, though geopolitical
concerns remained in view as the tenuous situation in Ukraine
* The biggest East-West confrontation since the Cold War
ramped up after U.S. President Barack Obama targeted some of
Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest long-time political
and business allies in response to Russia's seizure of Crimea
from Ukraine. Russia retaliated with sanctions of its own
against top U.S. politicians.
* With the S&P 500 within 1 percent of record levels,
some analysts say equities are vulnerable to any fallout from
escalating geopolitical tensions, even though few U.S. companies
have substantial exposure to the region. Still, stocks have
moved sharply higher this week, boosted by Moscow's assertion
that no other Ukrainian region would be subject to intervention.
* In another facet of emerging market concerns, Nike Inc
late Thursday said growing pressures from weaker
emerging market currencies would take a big toll on its profit
in the current quarter. The athletic apparel maker, which gets
about 30 percent of its revenue from emerging markets, also said
China sales would be unchanged or slightly down this quarter.
Shares fell 3.5 percent to $76.50 in premarket trading.
* S&P 500 futures rose 4.2 points and were above 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 rose 20
points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 9.5 points.
* For the week, the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq are
all up 1.7 percent.
* Despite the recent strength, volume has been anemic on
positive market days, suggesting limited conviction behind the
move. However, volume is expected to surge on Friday as options
expiration takes place alongside multiple index rebalances.
Credit Suisse estimates $14 billion in gross trading will stem
from the S&P 500 index rebalance, with another $6 billion coming
from rebalancing in other indexes.
* WellPoint Inc raised its earnings outlook, saying
it expected strong membership growth.
* In earnings news, Tiffany & Co reported adjusted
fourth-quarter earnings and gave a profit outlook that were
below estimates, sending shares down 2 percent to $89.39 before
the bell. Darden Restaurants Inc
reported third-quarter revenue that was slightly below
* Lin Media LLC jumped 32 percent to $28.45 in
premarket trading after Media General Inc agreed to buy
the company for $1.6 billion.
* The U.S. Federal Reserve late Thursday said that big U.S.
banks have enough capital buffers to withstand a drastic
economic downturn. The central bank said 29 out of 30 major
banks met the minimum hurdle in its annual health check. The
only bank to fall under the 5 percent requirement for top-tier
capital was Zion Bancorp, which said it would resubmit
a capital plan to the Fed.
(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)