Dow futures were pointing to an over 250-point gain at Thursday's open after weekly government data pushed coronavirus-driven jobless claims to over 40 million. First-time filings for unemployment benefits last week came in a bit higher-than-expected at 2.12 million, a terrible level but a continuation of the slowing pace of new claims.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average on Wednesday jumped 553 points, or 2.2%, closing above 25,000 for the first time since March. Coupled with Tuesday's nearly 530 point advance, the Dow has soared nearly 1,100 points, or 4.4%, in the past two sessions as Wall Street grows more optimistic about the economy even as the Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. exceeded 100,000 on Wednesday.
In addition to the Labor Department's weekly look at jobless claims Thursday, the Commerce Department issued April durable goods and its second reading on first-quarter economic growth. Durable goods orders last month fell 17.2%, slightly higher than expectations. GDP in the first three months of the year, before the full brunt of state lockdowns, showed a greater-than-expected contraction of 5% compared to the 4.8% first-reading decline.
China's parliament Thursday approved a proposal to impose a new national security law for Hong Kong, and paving the way for the legislation to be finalized and implemented. Protests in the autonomous Chinese territory reignited after the legislation was first proposed Friday. The U.S. has criticized China's move, saying it undermines Hong Kong's freedoms that Beijing promised to keep in place for 50 years when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
In a separate issue that could further erode Washington and Beijing relations, already strained over the origins of the coronavirus outbreak, the House sent President Donald Trump a bill calling for sanctions against Chinese officials for the detention and torture of Uighur Muslims in the country's western region of Xinjiang. The legislation was approved by 413-1 after passing overwhelmingly in the Senate earlier this month. Trump has not said whether he intends to sign it into law.
Trump is expected to sign on Thursday an executive order targeting social media companies one day after threatening to shut down Twitter and other platforms that he accuses of stifling conservative voices. Trump's latest dispute with social media emerged after Twitter on Tuesday for the first time attached a warning to some of his tweets prompting readers to fact check the president's claims. In a CNBC interview that aired Thursday morning, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked about it. He said he does not think social networks should be fact-checking what politicians post.
American Airlines plans to cut 30% of its management and support staff, a reduction of about 5,000 jobs, because of the toll coronavirus is taking on the business, according to a company memo that was viewed by CNBC. The airline also started offering buyouts to these employees and plans to offer voluntary leave and buyouts for front-line staff, such as flight attendants, in June. Last month, airlines started to receive parts of a $25 billion federal aid package set aside for the carriers. The airlines that accepted the aid are prohibited from laying off or cutting the pay rates of employees through Sept. 30.
Boeing has resumed manufacturing its beleaguered 737 Max planes. Production was halted in January as a worldwide grounding of the planes dragged on longer than expected. Airlines have been prohibited from flying the 737 Max since March 2019 after the second of two fatal crashes involving the jet that killed a total of 346 people. Boeing halted deliveries shortly after the second crash. It has been logging a surge in cancellations from customers this year as the coronavirus pandemic adds to its struggles. Earlier Wednesday, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said the company is laying off close to 7,000 employees this week, the first group in a plan to reduce its staff of 160,000 by 10%.
— Reuters contributed to this report. Follow all the developments on Wall Street in real-time with CNBC's live markets blog. Get the latest on the pandemic with our coronavirus blog.