By Anna Hirtenstein
U.S. stock futures ticked up Thursday ahead of fresh data on the number of Americans claiming unemployment benefits, which is likely to show marginal gains as the labor market continues its halting recovery.
Futures tied to the S&P 500 climbed 0.4%, signaling muted gains for the U.S. stock market after the opening bell. This would extend the broad-market index's rally into a second day.
Economists expect data on applications for jobless benefits, due to be released at 8:30 a.m. ET, will have ticked down to 825,000 last week, from 837,000 a week earlier. The figures are viewed as a proxy for layoffs, and will be monitored closely to assess the extent to which companies continue to reduce head count. This metric is still likely to be above pre-pandemic highs, despite dropping sharply from a peak of near 7 million in March.
"These are still high in the grand scheme of things. They've stabilized over the course of the last few months, but they're also not really going down," said Peter Dixon, an economist at Commerzbank. That will likely put additional pressure on Congress to agree on a package of coronavirus-relief measures, he said.
The S&P 500 climbed Wednesday to its highest close in over a month after President Trump tweeted his support for individual spending packages aimed at small business, airlines and delivering checks to households.
Discussions appear to remain ongoing, though Republicans and Democrats remain at odds over crucial details. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke briefly on Wednesday about a stand-alone stimulus bill for the airline industry, sending carriers' stocks higher.
"It's still all about stimulus at this point: we're seeing markets move on optimism that some kind of package is going to get done," said Esty Dwek, head of global market strategy at Natixis Investment Managers. "It's just a question of how much the Republicans will agree to."
Ahead of the New York open, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals rose nearly 5% after Mr. Trump said that an experimental coronavirus treatment made by the company was key to his recovery. A spokeswoman for the drugmaker on Wednesday said Regeneron has applied to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency-use authorization for its experimental treatment. Eli Lilly and Co., another drugmaker mentioned by the president in a Wednesday evening video posted on Twitter, climbed 2.2%.
Overseas, the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 edged up 0.5%. The European Central Bank is set to release minutes from last month's monetary policy meeting at 7:30 a.m. ET. That is likely to be closely scrutinized for policy makers' differing views on additional monetary stimulus.
German stocks advanced after better-than-expected data on exports for the month of August, a key metric for the trade-dependent economy.
"German exports continue to play catch up with the rest of the economy," said Carsten Brzeski, chief economist for the eurozone at ING. "While domestic demand kick-started immediately with the lifting of the lockdown measures, exports reacted with a delay, but have been gaining traction since."
In Asia, most major benchmark stock indexes gained by the close of trading. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index was the one exception, slipping 0.2%. That followed reports that the Trump administration is discussing potential curbs to digital payments platforms developed by Chinese tech companies Tencent Holdings and Ant Group on the grounds of national security, according to Deutsche Bank analysts. Markets in mainland China remain closed for a holiday.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires