Thursday February 18th


US futures higher; oil gains 2.5%

U.S. stock index futures indicated a higher open on Thursday as traders eyed oil and continued to digest the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's last meeting. Oil rose on Wednesday after more reports about a preliminary accord among some major oil producing nations to freeze production. In oil markets on Thursday, Brent crude traded at $35.26 a barrel, up 2.2 percent, while U.S. crude was at $31.40 a barrel, up 2.5 percent. Dow futures briefly gained about 100 points, while S&P and Nasdaq futures also pointed to a higher open. Weekly jobless claims came in at 262,000. The Philly Fed came in at minus 2.8 for February. Leading indicators are due at 10:00 a.m. The Fed minutes, released on Wednesday, signaled that its members see risks increasing. Most U.S. central bank officials were still looking to raise rates and even discussed whether a rate hike could be appropriate in January. After a discussion, they said tighter financial conditions could be the equivalent of further increases. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei closed up 2.28 percent, while the Shanghai Composite in China closed 0.16 percent lower. In Europe, the pan-European STOXX 600 index was 0.8 percent higher. On the earnings front, Applied Materials, Nordstrom and Boston Beer are expected after the bell. Gold eased on Thursday as a run higher in equities tempered upward momentum in the precious metal, though uncertainty over the direction of U.S. monetary policy supported prices above $1,200 an ounce. The dollar and gold, which is highly sensitive to U.S. rate rises, were stuck in narrow ranges after minutes of the Federal Reserve's last meeting released on Wednesday provided few fresh clues on the rate of U.S. rate hikes this year. Stock markets also firmed in Europe after a positive session in Asia overnight, and as benchmark Brent crude oil prices rose 1 percent. Sharp losses in oil and stocks drove gold to a one-year high at $1,260.60 an ounce last week. Spot gold was down 0.34 percent at $1,204.90 an ounce, while U.S. gold futures for April delivery were down 0.49 percent at $1,205.50.