U.S. stock futures were pointing to a new intraday high for the Dow Jones Industrial Average at Thursday's open on Wall Street. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq hit new intraday highs Wednesday and the Nasdaq closed at a record top on easing concerns about U.S.-Iran hostilities. A day before Friday's monthly government employment report for December, the Labor Department on Thursday said that filings for first-time jobless claims dropped more than expected last week but still rose to 1½-year highs. Private payroll growth ended 2019 on a strong note, with companies adding 202,000 positions in December, according to a report Wednesday from ADP and Moody's Analytics.
Confirmation from China that its top trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, will sign the phase one trade agreement in Washington next week added to the stock gains. Negotiating teams from both sides remain in close communication on the particular arrangements of the signing, the Commerce Ministry said Thursday. President Donald Trump, on New Year's Eve, said the China trade deal would be signed on Jan. 15 at the White House. Trump also said he will travel to Beijing to begin talks on the next phase.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will vote Thursday on a resolution to curb Trump's power to take military action against Iran, two days after Tehran retaliated for last week's U.S. killing of a top Iranian general. Iran on Tuesday night launched missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces. On Wednesday, Trump said Iran "appears to be standing down" after the airstrikes, and that he would increase "punishing" sanctions rather than take further military action.
Stocks finished the first five trading days of 2020 higher, setting up for a potentially strong performance in the full year, based on an old Wall Street indicator. If stocks perform well in the initial couple of sessions in a given year, the market is often up at year-end, according to the "first five days" rule. The Stock Trader's Almanac, which studied the market phenomenon going back to 1950, found that the first five days has a good track record of predicting the whole year.
Shares of Tesla, which more than doubled since late September, rose 1.2% in premarket trading after another new high. The Silicon Valley electric auto maker jumped nearly 5% on Wednesday, closing at a record $492.14 per share, elevating its stock market value to almost $89 billion. That's about $2 billion larger than the combined market capitalization of General Motors and Ford, which have respective market caps of about $50 billion and $37 billion. Tesla's surge has been fueled by a surprise third-quarter profit, progress at a new factory in China and better-than-expected car deliveries in the fourth quarter.
— Reuters contributed to this report.