U.S. Markets

U.S. stock markets ended higher on Wednesday, led by gains from technology and banking sector stocks.

The S&P 500 Index was up 2.11 points, or 0.16 percent, at 1,334.74. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 29.59 points, or 0.24 percent, at 12,423.49. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 0.31 percent.

Cisco Systems led gains in technology stocks after CEO John Chambers said in a memo to employees that the company has lost its way and will need to restore its credibility. Chambers suggested Cisco might change operations to narrow the company's focus.

Cisco Systems Inc (Nasdaq: CSCO) advanced 4.94 percent and Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE:HPQ) gained 2.21 percent, while Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Intel Corp. (NASDAQ:INTC) gained more than 1.2 percent.

Broadcom Corp. (NASDAQ:BRCM) advanced 3.9 percent to $39.95 as Oppenheimer has upgraded shares of BRCM to outperform from perform citing strong growth profile, management's stated efforts to pursue profitable growth, a more disciplined operating expense and compensation strategy.

Among banking stocks, JPMorgan Chase rose 2.28 percent and American Express gained 2.3 percent, while Bank of America advanced 1.86 percent.

Meanwhie, Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MON) led declines in commodity producers after the company reported second quarter sales of $4.13 billion against analysts’ estimation of $4.15 billion. The company shares declined 5.67 percent to $69.16.

U.S. Futures

Futures on the S&P 500 are down 0.01 percent, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average are up 0.01 percent and Nasdaq100 futures are down 0.12 percent.

The euro declined 0.34 percent to 1.4282 against the dollar and the yen gained 0.45 percent. Crude oil futures gained 0.09 percent to $108.93 a barrel and gold futures fell 0.04 percent.

European Markets

European stock markets advanced in early trade on Thursday, led by gains from financials after Portugal said it will ask for financial aid.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index advanced 0.28 percent to 282.37. DAX30 declined 1.01 points or 0.01 percent to 7,214.10 and FTSE 100 declined 0.58 points or 0.01 percent to 6,040.55, while CAC 40 gained 7.53 points or 0.19 percent 4,055.69.

The euro eased off from a 14-month high against the U.S. dollar as investors started booking profits ahead of interest rate decision by the European Central Bank (ECB). The single currency also came under pressure with renewed concerns over the euro zone’s sovereign debt crisis, as Portugal became the third country in the region to seek a bailout from the European Union (EU), which is expected to be around 80 billion euro ($114.4 billion).

Portuguese banks Banco Espirito Santo surged 5.84 percent and Banco Comercial Portugues SA climbed 5.08 percent in wake of the aid request.

Among other financials, Deutsche Bank AG gained 1.965 percent to 42.79 euros and Unicredit SpA advanced 1.68 percent to 1.81 euros, while Societe Generale rose 1.93 percent to 47.47 euros.

BMW shares declined 1.63 percent to 59.09 euros after the company stock was downgraded to “equal weight” rating from “overweight” rating at Morgan Stanley.

Asian Markets

Most Asian stock markets ended with slight gains on Thursday, while Seoul shares declined after Samsung Electronics unveiled weak earnings guidance.

Tokyo shares pared earlier gains in the afternoon session after the Bank of Japan lowered its assessment of the economy following the nation’s record earthquake. Benchmark Nikkei advanced 0.07 percent or 6.56 points to 9,590.93.

Bank shares gained after the central bank kept its key interest rate at zero to 0.1 percent and extended emergency loans to financial institutions affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group gained 2.4 percent to 381 yen and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group advanced 0.2 percent to 2,500 yen.

Among the exporters, Sony Corp. advanced 0.15 percent and Canon Inc. rose 0.41 percent, while NEC Corp. gained 1.16 percent.

Among the automakers, Honda Motor advanced 1.1 percent to 2,927 yen and Nissan Motor gained 1.12 percent to 720 yen, while Toyota Motor advanced 0.91 percent to 3,295 yen.

South Korean shares ended lower, led by declines from Samsung Electronics as its first quarter earnings forecast fell short of expectations. Seoul composite declined 4.57 points or 0.21 percent to 2,122.14.

Samsung Electronics declined 1.51 percent after the company said its first quarter profit may fell 34.2 percent to its lowest in nearly two years due to weak demand for televisions and lower flat screen prices.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index declined 3.25 points or 0.01 percent to 24,281.80 and Chinese Shanghai composite advanced 0.22 percent or 6.71 points to 3,008.07.