U.S. stock futures buoyed as Washington lawmakers signal more economic relief is near

U.S. stock-index futures pointed to a higher start Thursday as Washington lawmakers signaled a deal was near on a roughly $900 billion package of economic relief.

What are major indexes doing?
  • Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.53% rose 93 points, or 0.3%, to 30,167.
  • S&P 500 futures ES00, +0.60% were up 16.80 points, or 0.5%, at 3,710.50.
  • Nasdaq-100 futures NQ00, +0.65% advanced 58.25 points, or 0.5%,to 12,728.75.

Stocks posted a mixed finish on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve pledged to keep buying bonds until the economy was well on the way to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Dow DJIA, +0.53% finished slightly lower while the S&P 500 SPX, +0.57% rose to end within a whisker of its all-time closing high and the Nasdaq Composite COMP, +0.64% notched another record close.

What’s driving the market?

“The U.S. equity market appears to be traveling on end-of-year auto-pilot, which should allow share prices to drift higher, unless they hit an unanticipated pothole,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA, in a note

“Congress is expected to finally come through with a stimulus package by the end of this week,” while the expected approval of a second COVID-19 vaccine is “helping investors say the course, even though the widening lockdown threat of cities and states generates new concerns,” he said.

Congressional leaders on Wednesday signaled they were nearing an agreement on a $900 billion package of economic relief that would include extended unemployment benefits, aid to small businesses and another round of stimulus checks.

Leaders hope to attach a coronavirus aid deal to a separate $1.4 trillion bill providing full funding for the government through September 2021. To avoid a government shutdown, they need to pass the latter bill by midnight on Friday.

Pressure is on to provide aid as a resurgence of COVID-19 triggers renewed lockdown measures and curtails business and consumer activity.

Separately, November data on housing starts and building permits are due at the same time. Economists expect starts to rise to an annualized pace of 1.535 million from 1.53 million in October, while permits are forecast to rise to 1.57 million from 1.544 million.

Markets maintained their modest trend higher after a batch of economic reports on the morning. A reading on housing starts showed a 1.2% climb in November, with building permits rising 6.2% on the month to 1.64 million.

Meanwhile, a report on weekly unemployment claims showed that new claims rose to the highest level since early September, with initial claims rising to 885,000 from 862,000. That said, continuing state claims fell 273,000 to a 1.55 million rate, the data show.

Which companies are in focus?