* Weekly jobless claims rise to 244,000 vs. est. 242,000
* Philip Morris, Verizon fall after quarterly results
* American Express up on profit beat
* Investors eye first round of French election this Sunday
* Futures up: Dow 36 pts, S&P 6.25 pts, Nasdaq 19.75 pts
(Adds details, comment, updates prices)
By Tanya Agrawal
April 20 Wall Street looked set to open higher
on Thursday, helped by a rebound in oil prices and increased
optimism around the first-quarter earnings season.
Oil prices regained some ground, after steep losses in the
previous session, as leading producers signaled a likely
extension of OPEC-led supply cuts beyond the middle of the year.
"We're looking at a higher opening, helped by a rebound in
oil prices," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at
First Standard Financial in New York.
"We've had some strong earnings with more positive surprises
than negative, but the overall market trend remains negative
because of geopolitical concerns."
With Wall Street near record levels and worries over
President Donald Trump's ability to deliver on his pro-growth
promises, investors are hoping first-quarter earnings will be
strong enough to justify lofty market valuations.
Of the 57 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported
earnings through Wednesday morning, about 75 percent have topped
expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data, above the 71
percent average for the past four quarters.
Overall, profits of S&P 500 companies are estimated to have
risen 10.8 percent in the quarter, the best since 2011.
Key companies scheduled to report results on Thursday
include Dow component and toymaker Mattel.
However, mounting tensions between North Korea and the
United States and the looming French presidential elections are
keeping investors away from making risky bets.
A closely watched poll showed Centrist Emmanuel Macron hung
on to his lead as favorite to win France's presidential election
in a four-way race that is too close to call.
Dow e-minis were up 36 points, or 0.18 percent, with
26,966 contracts changing hands at 8:17 a.m. ET (1217 GMT).
S&P 500 e-minis were up 6.25 points, or 0.27 percent,
with 128,500 contracts traded.
Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 19.75 points, or 0.37
percent, on volume of 22,993 contracts.
Shares of Philip Morris fell 5 percent to $110.20 in
premarket trading after the tobacco maker's first-quarter profit
forecast came in below estimates.
Verizon Communications was down 2.3 percent at $47.81
as the No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier reported a 20 percent fall in
Qualcomm rose 2.2 percent to $53.75 after the
largest maker of chips used in smartphones, reported quarterly
revenue and profit that beat analysts' estimates.
American Express was up 2.4 percent at $77.39 after
the company's first-quarter profit fell less than expected .
New applications for U.S. jobless benefits rose slightly
more than expected last week, but the number of Americans on
unemployment rolls dropped to a 17-year low, pointing to a
tightening labor market.
Initial jobless claims increased to 244,000, above the
242,000 rise expected.
(Reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Anil D'Silva)