U.S. stock index futures were modestly higher Thursday as Wall Street evaluated Walmart’s quarterly earnings and hoped that the debt ceiling crisis would soon see a resolution. Futures linked to the S&P 500 and Nasdaq-100 were up about 0.1% each. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures traded slightly below the flatline, shedding 14 points. The market was helped by a nearly 2% gain before the bell from retail giant Walmart on the back of its strong financial report. The company beat Wall Street forecasts on both earnings per share and revenue in its first quarter and raised its expectations for full-year performance. Meanwhile, regional banks were set to build on their strong gains from the previous session. The SPDR S&P Regional Bank ETF (KRE) traded 1.3% higher after rising more than 7% on Wednesday. Shares of closely followed PacWest popped more 6% in premarket trading following an 11% rally Wednesday. Those advances build on a strong Wednesday session, in which the major averages each jumped more than 1% as hope for a possible debt ceiling deal grew. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday that he does not believe the U.S. will default on its debt. President Joe Biden also stated in later remarks that he was confident lawmakers would come together to reach a deal and avoid a default. Initial jobless claims unexpectedly declined last week, indicating the labor market still has some tightness. First-time filings for the week ended May 13 totaled 242,000, a drop of 22,000 from the previous week and below the Dow Jones estimate for 250,000, the Labor Department reported. Continuing claims nudged lower to 1.799 million, against the FactSet estimate for 1.829 million. Asia-Pacific markets rose on hopes of U.S President Joe Biden and congressional leaders inching closer to a deal to raise the U.S. debt ceiling and avoid a default. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 rose 1.6%, leading gains in the region and closing at 30,573.93 and the Topix was up 1.14% to close at 2,157.85 as investors further digested Japan’s trade data for April – imports fell further than expected while exports growth saw a two-year low on weakened China demand. South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.83% and ended at 2,515.4 and the Kosdaq gained 0.2% to finish at 835.89. Stocks in Australia also rose, with the S&P/ASX 200 lower by 0.52% and ending at 7,236.8 as the country’s unemployment rate came in at 3.7% in April, higher than the 3.5% expected by economists. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rebounded after Wednesday’s late sell-off, climbing 0.78% on Wednesday. However, mainland Chinese markets ended the day mixed, with the Shenzhen Component losing 0.12% and closing at 11.078.28, and the Shanghai Composite up 0.4% to end at 3,297.32. Oil prices eased on Thursday as traders warily watched for signs of progress on talks to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, after surging in the previous session on optimism over U.S. fuel demand. Brent crude futures dipped 41 cents, or 0.5%, to $76.55 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude dropped 37 cents, or 0.5%, to $72.52 a barrel. Gold prices inched lower on Thursday as the dollar held firm and optimism over U.S. debt-ceiling talks reduced the metal’s safe-haven appeal. Spot gold fell 0.2% to $1,976.99 per ounce. U.S. gold futures edged 0.3% lower to $1,979.80.
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