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Stock-index futures pointed to more gains for Wall Street after a strong two-day rally as traders responded to generally upbeat data and corporate earnings.
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As of 8:39 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures rose 37 points to 13313, S&P 500 futures gained 4.3 points to 1446 and Nasdaq 100 futures climbed 9.3 points to 2711.
The Dow and S&P 500 both posted their best two-day advance since November during the first part of the week. Progress made on talks to avoid the fiscal cliff -- a painful punch of tax hikes and spending cuts set to hit next year -- helped raise sentiment.
That upbeat tone continued into Wednesday.
Software giant Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) posted quarterly results that beat estimates on the top and bottom lines. Meanwhile, FedEx (NYSE:FDX) the global package deliver company that is also seen as an economic bellwether posted results that beat on the bottom line but missed slightly on the top line.
Also in corporate news, General Motors (NYSE:GM) will buy back 200 million shares of its stock at $27.50 a share from the U.S. Treasury Department in a $5.5 billion deal expected to close by the end of this year. The government plans to sell its remaining 300 million shares over the next 12 to 15 months.
Knight Capital (NYSE:KCG) chose to pursue a cash and stock merger deal with GETCO that values Knight at $1.4 billion, ending a bidding war for the trading company. As part of the deal, Knight shareholders will have the right to receive $3.75 a share in cash or one share in the new company.
On the economic front, the Commerce Department said U.S. housing starts fell 3% in November from October to an 861,000-unit rate, missing economists' estimates of an 873,000-unit rate. Permits to build new homes jumped 3.6% to an 899,000-unit rate, topping estimates of an 875,000-unit rate and marking the fastest pace since July 2008.
The real estate market has generally been showing signs of recovery in recent months, but economists say it will be a slow and choppy ride.
A closely watched survey on German business sentiment from the Ifo Institute rose to 102.4 in December from 101.4 the month prior, suggesting Europe's biggest economy may be shaking off headwinds from the eurozone's debt crisis.
Energy futures tilted higher. The benchmark crude contract climbed 58 cents, or 0.66%, to $88.51 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline jumped 0.85% to $2.714 a gallon. In metals, gold was essentially unchanged at $1,670 a troy ounce.
The Euro Stoxx 50 climbed 0.61% to 2660, the English FTSE 100 gained 0.49% to 5966 and the German DAX edged up by 0.26% to 7674.
In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 surged 2.4% to 10160 and the Chinese Hang Seng edged up by 0.57% to 22623.