NEW YORK – Stocks were set to extend gains at the open on Thursday, following a rally Wednesday, on expectations of progress toward a fiscal agreement in Washington that would avert a recession.
Market participants are focused on discussions in Congress to avoid big spending cuts and tax hikes, dubbed the "fiscal cliff;" equities may retreat, as they did Tuesday, if the upbeat negotiation environment in Washington deteriorates.
"There will be a deal before December 31 to avert the economy facing disaster," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York.
"We're back on track for a year-end rally to continue," he said.
The yield on Italy's 10-year bonds fell to the lowest in two years at an auction, amid relief that immediate risks over Greece had diminished.
"The fact that the bond sales in Europe went well suggest confidence is beginning to reenter some of the peripheral nations and that is a good sign," Cardillo said.
The euro briefly touched the $1.30 level and is near its highs for November, boosting commodity prices which could lift shares of basic materials and energy companies.
S&P 500 futures rose 7.5 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 59 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 16.5 points.
The futures market barely reacted to data showing the U.S. economy grew faster than first reported between July and September, and that the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped for a second week. Data separately showed a larger-than-expected 3.3 percent advance in third-quarter corporate profit.
Also due for release Thursday are pending home sales for October at 10:00 a.m. (1500 GMT) and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City November manufacturing survey at 11:00 a.m.
Kroger , the biggest U.S. supermarket operator, added 4.4 percent to $26.15 in premarket trading after reporting earnings.
Tiffany shares fell 8 percent to $58.65 in premarket trading after the upscale jeweler reported quarterly results and cut its full-year sales and profit forecasts.
Target shares fell 2.9 percent and Kohl's Corp dropped 7.8 percent after the retailers posted sales for November.
U.S.-listed shares of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion soared 11.7 percent to $12.40 after Goldman Sachs upgraded the stock to "buy" from "neutral."
On Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 106.98 points, or 0.83 percent, to 12,985.11. The S&P 500 gained 10.99 points, or 0.79 percent, to 1,409.93. The Nasdaq Composite added 23.99 points, or 0.81 percent, to close at 2,991.78.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)