By William Horner 

U.S. stock futures edged higher ahead of a busy day of earnings reports and the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president.

Futures tied to the S&P 500 rose 0.4% Wednesday, while contracts linked to the tech-heavy Nasdaq-100 rose 0.8%. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures were up 0.2%.

Earnings from Morgan Stanley, Procter & Gamble, UnitedHealth and U.S. Bancorp are due before the opening bell. United Airlines will release its earnings just after markets close.

Stocks have begun the week on an upbeat note, with all three major indexes hovering just below their record highs. Investors remain optimistic that fiscal stimulus is supporting businesses through the damage wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

That will put pressure on companies to deliver during this earnings season and meet the market's expectations, said Brian O'Reilly, head of market strategy at Mediolanum Investment Funds.

"Any company that is likely to miss or modestly disappoint on earnings will be punished quite heavily," said Mr. O'Reilly. "A lot of optimism has already been priced in and typically you don't get too much room for maneuver when a stock is at a historic high."

Ahead of the opening bell, shares of Netflix rose over 12% after the streaming company said it had topped 200 million subscribers.

Chinese internet giant Alibaba jumped 8.5% in Hong Kong after the company's embattled owner, Jack Ma, made his first public appearance in three months, ending concerns about his whereabouts.

As earnings reports pick up, focus is likely to center on sectors most exposed to the U.S. economy, such as banks and energy companies, and those which have suffered the most during the pandemic, such as leisure and hospitality, said Hugh Gimber, a strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

"The most interesting thing will be how much leveling-off do we see, how much are last year's laggards able to catch up," he said.

The inauguration of Joe Biden as president is scheduled to begin at midday ET amid tight security in the capital. Mr. Biden has laid out plans for a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package to help Americans get through the economic shock of the pandemic and direct money into testing and vaccine distribution.

In commodity markets, Brent crude, the international benchmark for oil, rose 0.8% to $56.38 a barrel. Gold prices rose 0.7% to $1,852 a troy ounce.

Overseas, the Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.4%. In Asia, stocks indexes were mixed. The Nikkei 225 fell 0.4%, while the Hang Seng Index rose 1.1% and the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.5%.

Write to William Horner at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 20, 2021 05:02 ET (10:02 GMT)

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