U.S. stock futures on Thursday pointed to a fourth session of strong rallies for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and the Nasdaq as continued vote-counting in the presidential race favors Democrat Joe Biden but doesn't shut the door on President Donald Trump's chances of reelection. Dow futures rose more than 300 points Thursday, one day after closing up 367 points. The Dow jumped more than 800 points, or about 3%, at Wednesday's highs. The blue chip average's three-session surge, which wiped about three-quarters of last week's worst decline since March, comes as investors look at the prospect of continued divided government taking tax hikes off the table in the event of a Biden win.
The Federal Reserve ends its two-day November meeting Thursday afternoon, with expectations of the status quo: near-zero percent interest rates and a continuation of the extraordinary monetary stimulus to support the U.S. economy during the coronavirus crisis. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell holds a 2:30 p.m. ET news conference after central bankers release their policy statement at 2 p.m. He's likely to be asked about Capitol Hill's role in addition fiscal Covid-19 economic relief and whether the U.S. is doing enough to help Americans and U.S. businesses in need.
Ahead of the conclusion of the Fed's meeting, the Labor Department on Thursday morning reported 751,000 new filings for unemployment benefits for the week ending Oct. 31. That's down slightly from 758,000 initial claims the prior week but slightly higher than expectations. This was the third straight week below 800,000. But the level is still well above historical norms.
Shares of General Motors surged 6% in Thursday's premarket trading after the automaker solidly beat estimates with adjusted per-share earnings of $2.83 in the third quarter. GM credits its highly profitable trucks and SUVs in North America for the standout performance. However, overall revenue of $35.48 billion was just shy of Wall Street expectations.
On the road to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, Biden has 253 and Trump has 214, after NBC News projected the former vice president the winner in Michigan and Wisconsin. As many swing states continue to count votes, Biden is ahead in Arizona, which has 11 electoral votes, and Nevada, with six. If he were to win both states, Biden would hit the 270 number no matter what happens in Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina, three states where Trump has leads. The president's path to reelection counts on winning those states and one other.
However, with his path to 270 narrowing, Trump's campaign is pursuing legal action in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia pertaining to vote counting. The Trump campaign also wants a recount in Wisconsin, which has already been called by NBC News for Biden.
Republicans appear set to hold their majority in the Senate with five races still uncalled by NBC News. While Democrats are projected to keep control of the House, Republicans appear ready to flip some seats and chip away at their majority.
New daily coronavirus cases in the U.S. hit a record of 102,831 on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, North Dakota and New Mexico all reported record high hospitalizations this week, according to The Associated Press. Total Covid-19 infections in the U.S. approached 9.5 million on Thursday morning, with 233,734 deaths.
Europe is also seeing a surge in new cases, with countries there entering various degrees of lock downs. Four Italian regions are being put under "red-zone" closures, with severe limits imposed on the circumstances under which people can leave homes.
With a new lockdown now in effect through Dec. 2, the Bank of England held already near-zero percent interest rates steady. However, BOE policymakers voted on Thursday to expand its target of asset purchases to $1.2 trillion. The U.K. economy suffered an unprecedented 19.8% contraction in the second quarter during the height of the first lockdown. The BOE on Thursday projected economic growth of 7.25% for next year, revised down from August estimates for a 9% expansion in 2021. In 2022, however, U.K. growth is expected at 6.25%, according to the BOE, compared with the 3.5% seen in August.
AstraZeneca said Thursday it expects data on its experimental vaccine to be available this year as the British pharmaceutical giant reported a solid rise in overall third-quarter sales. AstraZeneca's vaccine candidate, being developed in collaboration with the University of Oxford, is in late-stage clinical trials in the U.K., Brazil, South Africa and the U.S., involving around 23,000 participants. Trials in the U.K. and U.S. recently had to be paused due to unexplained illnesses experienced by two participants. But those trials have since resumed. Several U.S. companies are pursuing a Covid vaccine, including Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.
— NBC News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.