U.S. stocks opened higher on Thursday, despite a rise in weekly jobless claims, after strong quarterly results from retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a new record high. Wal-Mart posted earnings that beat Street forecasts, driven by a strong back-to-school shopping season, sending shares up over 3 percent, to $82.14, in morning trading.
Although the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, claims still remained near a 14-year low. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 12,000, to 290,000, last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Economists had forecast that claims would increase to 280,000 for the week of Nov. 8, according to analysts polled by Reuters. Also, the September Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey was revised downward from 4.853 million job openings at the last reading to 4.735 million job openings in today's reading.
Meanwhile, Wal-Mart reported earnings of $1.15 per share for its latest quarter, 3 cents above analysts' estimates, with revenue and comparable store sales also above expectations. Revenue came in at $118.01 billion, just shy of expectations for $118.32 billion.
In merger-and-acquisition news, Berkshire Hathaway announced it is buying The Procter & Gamble Company's Duracell battery business. Procter & Gamble will receive $4.7 billion in P&G shares currently held by Berkshire, while a recapitalized Duracell will have $1.7 billion in cash when transferred to Berkshire.
On the international front, the European Central Bank cut its growth outlook and warned of eurozone inflation. Data released on Thursday showed that eurozone inflation is expected to reach 1.0 percent next year and 1.4 percent in 2016, down from earlier forecasts of 1.2 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively, according to 61 economists surveyed by the ECB.
Asian indices closed mixed following a data-heavy session after economic indicators pointed to a cooling China economy. China's retail sales rose 11.5 percent from a year earlier, slightly below expectations for an 11.6 percent rise, according to Reuters data. The world's second-largest economy also said industrial production rose 7.7 percent vs. last year, also below expectations calling for an 8 percent rise. Separate data showed Japan machinery orders, a leading indicator of capital spending, rose for the fourth straight month in September.
Looking ahead, investors will be watching for oil inventories at 11 a.m. EST and the October federal budget at 2 p.m. EST. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is scheduled to give welcoming remarks at a joint Fed-ECB conference in Washington, D.C., at 12:45 p.m. EST. Charles Plosser, Philadelphia Fed Bank President, is due to speak at a monetary policy conference in Philadelphia at 12:30 p.m. EST.
The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average, which measures 30 large industrial stocks, climbed 58.29 points, or 0.33 percent, to 17,670.49; the S&P 500 Index ticked up 5.52 points, or 0.27 percent, to 2,043.79. The Nasdaq Composite gained 25.71 points, or 0.55 percent, to 4,700.78.