By Caitlin Ostroff 

U.S. stock futures rose on strong earnings and renewed investor enthusiasm for big technology companies.

Futures tied to the tech-heavy Nasdaq-100 led markets, rising 0.4%, indicating the index may climb further after notching its third record high this year on Wednesday. Contracts tied to the broader S&P 500 rose 0.2%, as did those linked to the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Investors are watching earnings closely to see if they support the strong run across markets in recent months. Many have bet on an economic recovery this year as Covid-19 vaccinations ramp up, increasing prospects for future earnings.

Shares of Travelers, a major property-casualty insurer, climbed 3.1% in premarket trade after it logged an increase in quarterly profit and a modest rise in net written premiums. Regional bank KeyCorp rose 2.4% after it recorded higher revenue and a larger profit, with increased activity in its consumer-mortgage and investment-banking businesses driving fees. Meanwhile, Ford Motor climbed 4.4% premarket.

Chip giant Intel and International Business Machines are slated to announce results after markets close.

"Earnings season looks relatively good and seems to confirm this picture that the U.S. -- because there was no full lockdown -- did well in the fourth quarter," said Carsten Brzeski, ING Groep's global head of macro research. "Stock markets are really looking through the short-term outlook for the economy, which has worsened over recent days."

Fresh data showed that 900,000 Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits for the week ended Jan. 16, as companies continued to lay off workers amid a surge in Covid-19 cases. New data also showed that U.S. housing starts picked up again in December.

Investors are paying close attention to corporate guidance in the sectors most affected by the pandemic. In offhours trading, shares of United Airlines fell 1.7% after the airliner said it expected the coronavirus to continue to weigh on travel demand this year.

Supporting markets is the expectation that central banks and governments will step in if financial conditions deteriorate. This has encouraged investors to seek out higher returns, including in overseas markets.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Index rose 0.8% Thursday and is trading near its highest level in 30 years. India's benchmark stock gauge, the S&P BSE Sensex Index, hit a record high Wednesday. Indexes in China and South Korea rallied, with the Shanghai Composite up 1.1% and Korea's Kospi gaining 1.5%.

The backstop from governments and central banks -- plus consensus among investors for a strong economic recovery this year -- has squeezed volatility out of the market. The Cboe Volatility Index, known as the VIX and seen as Wall Street's fear gauge, was at 21.25 Thursday, its lowest since December.

A day after President Biden was inaugurated, money managers are keeping a close eye on his proposed Covid relief package, and the prospects for it proceeding through Congress.

While stocks have taken their cue from the stimulus plans, investors in bonds have been more skeptical of a big spending push, keeping yields relatively subdued, said Daniel Morris, BNP Paribas Asset Management's chief market strategist.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note ticked up to 1.107% Thursday, from 1.089% Wednesday. Yields rise when bond prices fall.

"At least one part of the market is saying 'nice idea,' but if you really thought you'd get $1.9 trillion in stimulus, yields would be higher," said Mr. Morris.

Overseas, the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.3%. The materials and information technology sectors led gains, while industrials and energy sectors lost ground.

Meanwhile, the European Central Bank held steady on interest rates.

Write to Caitlin Ostroff at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 21, 2021 09:06 ET (14:06 GMT)

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