Here are the most important news, trends and analysis that investors need to start their trading day:
U.S. stock futures rose Thursday as the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 looked to add to their three-session winning streaks. The Nasdaq on Wednesday dipped after two straight days of strong advances. The Dow and S&P 500 eked out gains Wednesday following rallies Monday and Tuesday as the Reddit-fueled retail trading frenzy dissipated.
GameStop was once again volatile, finishing up nearly 2.7% at $92.41 per share Wednesday but still down 71% from Friday's close of $325. In last week's 400% surge, shares reached an all-time intraday high of $483 each. GameStop rose modestly in Thursday's premarket.
The Labor Department on Thursday morning reported 779,000 new filings for unemployment benefits for the week ending Jan. 30. That was lower than estimates and the lowest tally in two months. The previous week's level was revised down by 35,000 to 812,000. The government reports its January employment report Friday. ADP said Wednesday that 174,000 jobs were added last month at U.S. companies, more than triple expectations.
Merck Chairman and CEO Ken Frazier is retiring. He will be succeeded as CEO on June 30 by CFO Robert Davis, the company said. Frazier, 66, will become executive chairman for what the drugmaker described as a "transition period to be determined by the board." Frazier, one of the few Black corporate leaders in the United States, has served as Merck's chief executive since January 2011.
Frazier's retirement was announced shortly before Merck reported fourth-quarter earnings and revenue that fell short of estimates. Per-share profit was $1.32 on $12.5 billion in revenue. Merck forecast full-year 2021 earnings between $6.48 to $6.68 per share, which were higher than analyst expectations. Dow stock Merck was little changed in the premarket.
Apple shares rose nearly 2% in Thursday's premarket, the morning after CNBC reported that the tech giant is close to finalizing a deal with Hyundai-Kia to manufacture an Apple-branded autonomous electric vehicle at the Kia assembly plant in West Point, Georgia. The so-called Apple Car, which is being developed by a team at Apple, is tentatively scheduled to go into production in 2024, though people familiar with the talks said the eventual rollout could be pushed back.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., unveiled a sweeping antitrust reform bill, setting a tough tone in her new role as chair of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust. If enacted, it would bring significantly more risk to companies like Facebook and Alphabet-owned Google, which are already facing federal lawsuits, and to any dominant firm seeking to acquire another company. House antitrust subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I., has similarly called for extensive reforms that would impact Big Tech.
President Joe Biden encouraged Democratic lawmakers to "act fast" on his $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue plan but also signaled flexibility. Changes he indicated he would consider include limiting proposed $1,400 direct payments to Americans with lower income levels, which could draw support from Republicans who want a much smaller package. Biden told lawmakers in private comments Wednesday he's "not married" to an absolute number for the overall bill but wants them to "go big" on pandemic relief and "restore the soul of the country."
— The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow all the developments on Wall Street in real time with CNBC Pro's live markets blog. Get the latest on the pandemic with our coronavirus blog.