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Thursday's markets will ride last big wave of earnings

One of the last big blasts of second-quarter earnings news is expected Thursday as traders watch to see if oil can hold its gains.

West Texas Intermediate crude futures were slightly lower Thursday after bouncing 3 percent Wednesday as weekly inventory data showed a decline in gasoline supply. That in turn lifted stocks and helped break a seven-day losing streak for the Dow.

Dow futures were slightly higher Thursday, as were S&P 500 futures.

"The S&P 500 held 2,146, the 21-day moving average Tuesday, and today the bulls took back the ball. It was good to see oil reverse on the [inventory] number," said Scott Redler, partner with T3Live.com. "If today's low marked a bottom in oil for the summer, we'll probably see that the bears will have a hard time getting downside follow-through."

End of day outside Wall Street, NYSE
Tim Clayton | Corbis | Getty Images

The S&P 500 rose 6 points Wednesday to 2,163, above the key 2,160 area. Oil settled at $40.83, above the important $40 threshold.

Ahead of Wall Street's open, the Bank of England Thursday cut rates by a quarter point in an effort to fend off any slowdown related to Brexit. It also surprised the market with an expanded quantitative easing program that includes corporate bonds.

U.S. data Thursday includes weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. EDT and factory order at 10 a.m.

Brexit hasn't shown much impact outside the U.K., even though many of the S&P companies reporting mentioned it, according to Paul Hickey, co-founder of Bespoke. The U.K. vote to leave the European Union rattled markets initially but they since have recovered losses.

"When you have something like that, that is something that can give companies an easy excuse to lower the bar. That's as good an excuse as any," Hickey said. "It was mentioned in less than half the conference calls of companies that reported, and mostly it was mentioned that it wasn't having any noticeable impact yet."

Hickey pointed out that the Nasdaq biotechnology index is now up 22.7 percent since June 27, back in a bull market but still well off its highs.

"You've seen a lot of growth-oriented names doing well, and biotech is the growthiest of the sectors that they flock to when growth stocks rally," he said.

Hickey said earnings season has been coming in better than expected. According to Thomson Reuters, as of Wednesday morning, 70 percent of the 75 percent of the S&P 500 companies reporting had beaten estimates. The long-term average is that 60 percent of companies beat.

Earnings are down by 2.3 percent so far, but the average size of the beats by companies is 4.6 percent, well above normal, according to Thomson Reuters.

"So far, it's been pretty good. What we saw through the end of last week, it was the best beat rate for U.S. companies since the early quarters of the bull market, and even revenue beat rates have shown improvement. Companies have been meeting the numbers. Guidance has been split pretty evenly down the middle, where most quarters in the recent past have been much more negative guidance than positive," Hickey said. After this week, earnings focus shifts to retail, a group that hasn't been doing well.

Hickey said it appears that profits could start to show gains again next quarter. As for the stock market, he expects it to see gains going out to the end of the year.

"It was nice to see oil rally for a change. If it can stay around these levels, I think that's fine for the market. If you see it start to go into the low $30s, you could run into some problems," he said. Oil analysts say oil could remain under pressure into the fall, but many expect it to end the year higher.

Traders have been waiting for Friday's key nonfarm payrolls, expected to show 180,000 jobs created. "If it's 150,000 to 170,000, that should keep things in tact," said Redler. "If oil hadn't bounced, we would have continuation to Tuesday's move. If oil's bounce is sustained, it's going to be hard for bears to get much traction," Redler said.

Among the dozens of companies reporting earnings Thursday are energy companies, consumer products names, tech, restaurants and health care.

Reporting ahead of the bell are Adidas, Duke Energy, Toyota, Viacom, Kellogg, Apache, Alcatel-Lucent, Becton Dickinson, Regeneron, Burger King, Chesapeake Energy, Sempra Energy, Restaurant Brands International, VimpelCom, Nokia, Church & Dwight, Time Inc, MGM Resorts and AMC Networks.

Companies reporting after the close include Priceline, LinkedIn, Motorola Solutions, Mohawk, Kraft Heinz, El Pollo Loco, Allscripts Healthcare, Bankrate, BioMarin Pharma, Con Ed, EOG Resources, Fluor, Great Plains Energy, Lions Gate, FireEye, NGL Energy Partners, Noodles and Co, Zillow, Zynga, Tesoro and Weight Watchers.