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Fed Statement, Walmart, Europe Boost Futures

There's some positive momentum for Wall Street ahead of Thursday's session. Futures are pointing to a nice pop at the open, following yesterday's strong gains.

Following its two-day meeting, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday hinted at an improving economy, while saying inflation would remain subdued and that interest rates would stay low for an extended period.

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  • Walmart contributed to the positive feelings, reporting earnings of 88 cents a share that beat analyst expectations by 3 cents. Shares of the big-box retailing giant gained 1.6 percent in premarket trading. (Walmart has dropped the hyphen from its name.)

    Along the same theme, department store chain Kohl's reported profit of 75 cents a share that was narrowly ahead of estimates. Traders weren't as pleased with those results, though, sending shares down more than 1 percent premarket.

    Europe's two biggest economies, France and Germany, posted surprise returns to growth in the second quarter, boosting investor optimism further.

    German and French gross domestic product each rose by 0.3 percent in the second quarter. The consensus in a Reuters poll of economists had predicted a 0.3 percent quarterly contraction in both countries.

    The major averages are now virtually unchanged for the week and could chalk up their fifth consecutive weekly gains with a rally Thursday and Friday.

    Computer companies also could be in focus; JPMorgan raised its price target for both Dell and Hewlett-Packard. Dell's target was raised to $13 from $10, while H-P was lifted to $49.50 from $40, sending its shares slightly higher premarket.

    Similarly, Barclays Capital raised its price target for Apple to $208 from $188, citing solid product pipeline such as the iPhone and prospects for strong free cash flow. Apple shares gained nearly 1 percent premarket.

    In other earnings, high-end retailer Nordstrom will report after the bell.

    The retail theme continues at 8:30 am New York time, when the government releases July retail sales figures. Economists think sales rose 0.5 percent during the month, most of that accounted for by a cash-for-clunkers related surge in auto sales. Factoring out autos, economists predict a retail sales rise of 0.1 percent.

    There are other, non-retail numbers on the calendar as well. The Labor Department issues its weekly report on first time claims for jobless benefits at 8:30 am new York time, with the consensus forecast calling for claims of 540,000, compared to last week's reading of 550,000.

    Business inventories for June will be released at 10 am New York time, likely to have fallen by 0.9 percent.

    The Treasury completes a record $75 billion in auctions this week by selling $15 billion in 30-year bonds today, with results due shortly after 1 pm New York time.

    - Peter Schacknow contributed to this report.