Stocks open higher on Wall Street, hold near record highs

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are opening slightly higher on Wall Street, keeping major indexes hovering near record highs. The S&P 500 edged up less than 0.1% in the early going Thursday, nudged along by gains in technology and industrial companies. Investors are keeping a close eye on Washington, where President-elect Joe Biden gave his support to a bipartisan effort to provide more relief to the economy. Before trading opened the Labor Department reported that the number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to a still-high 712,000. Treasury yields moved lower. European markets mostly slipped and Asian markets were mixed.

European shares traded lower and U.S. futures weakened Thursday after a day of gains on most Asian markets.

Progress toward rolling out coronavirus vaccines and talk of reaching a compromise on new help for the U.S. economy have been spurring advances on world markets.

As countries prepare to begin vaccinating health care workers and others at high risk against the coronavirus, hopes are rising that the pandemic will be brought under control, allowing economies to recover.

Germany’s DAX slipped 0.4% to 13,255 and the CAC 40 in France gave up 0.3% to 5,567. In Britain, the FTSE 100 was flat at 6,467. Wall Street futures also were little changed with the contracts for the S&P 500 and Dow industrials down less than 0.1%.

During Asian trading, the benchmark Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo edged up less than 0.1% to 26,809.37, its highest close in more than 29 years.

The rollout of a vaccine in the U.S. could begin this month, if regulators give their approval. Drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech said they won permission for emergency use of their COVID-19 vaccine in Britain, which will be one of the first countries to begin vaccinating its population against the virus.

The vaccine is the world’s first coronavirus shot that’s backed by rigorous science and is viewed as a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic.

“The vaccine has been the big prize for risk markets,” Stephen Innes of Axi said in a commentary. Vaccinations will reduce virus counts, resulting in a “collective demand lift for the world economy, and global geopolitical risk has also diminished after the U.S. presidential election. A much clearer view across the valley to economic recovery should mean more upside,” he said.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng climbed 0.7% to 26,728.50 and South Korea’s Kospi added 0.5% to 2,696.22. In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 picked up 0.4% to 6,615.30.

The Shanghai Composite index shed 0.2% to 3,442.14. India’s Sensex edged 0.1% higher and shares were mixed in Southeast Asia.

In the U.S. the focus will turn to jobs survey from the Labor Department due out Friday. Economists are forecasting that will show employers added about 441,000 jobs in November, down from a gain of 638,000 in October.

Traders are hoping Democrats and Republicans may reach a deal on some amount of economic stimulus for the economy before 2021, though they remain divided on the details and the cost.

On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers during a House Financial Services Committee hearing that Congress needs to approve COVID-19 relief funds without further delay.

In energy markets, investors were monitoring talks among OPEC countries on production levels that have hit a snag. The talks are due to include Russia in Thursday.

U.S. benchmark crude oil was down 29 cents to $44.99 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 28 cents to $47.97 per barrel.

The dollar weakened to 104.25 Japanese yen from 104.43 yen late Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.2134 from $1.2113.