Sluggish start for stocks after climb in unemployment claims

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Stocks are off to a sluggish start on Wall Street as investors look over a surprise increase in claims for unemployment benefits and mixed news on corporate earnings. The S&P 500 was wavering between small gains and losses in the first few minutes of trading Thursday. It’s still holding on to a gain for the week. Gains in a few big tech companies pushed the Nasdaq up 0.2% but the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.3%. The Labor Department reported that unemployment claims rose last week to 419,000, the most in two months and more than economist were expecting.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

BEIJING (AP) — Global stock markets followed Wall Street higher Thursday for a second day as optimism about an economic recovery appeared to outweigh concern over rising coronavirus cases and inflation.

Market benchmarks in Frankfurt, Shanghai and Hong Kong advanced. London opened down less than 0.1%. Japanese markets were closed for a holiday.

Wall Street futures rose after the S&P 500 index climbed 0.8% overnight. That put it on track for a weekly gain after rebounding from Monday's 1.6% loss.

Investors are wavering between optimism about a global recovery and unease that it might be delayed by the spread of the virus's more contagious delta variant. They also worry central bankers might feel pressure to tame rising inflation by rolling back easy credit.

“The delta variant remains an ever-present downside risk for the markets in the near-term," said Craig Erlam of Oanda in a report, “but as long as inflation remains only a temporary problem, it also keeps central bank hawks at bay."

In early trading, the DAX in Frankfurt rose 0.9% to 15,558.70 and the CAC 40 in Paris was 0.6% higher at 6,504.94. The FTSE 100 in London shed less than 0.1% to 6,995.42.

On Wall Street, futures for the S&P 500 index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 0.1%.

The S&P 500's rise Wednesday was driven by tech stocks, banks and companies that rely on consumer spending. Energy stocks also rose as the price of U.S. crude oil marched higher. Utilities and real estate stocks were among the decliners.

The Dow gained 0.8% and the Nasdaq composite added 0.9%.

In Asia on Thursday, the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.3% to 3,574.73 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong surged 1.8% to 27,723.84.

The Kospi in Seoul added 1.1% to 3,250.21 and the S&P-ASX 200 in Sydney rose 1.1% to 7,386.40.

India's Sensex advanced 1.2% to 52,793.16. New Zealand and Southeast Asian markets gained.

U.S. stocks, boosted by unexpectedly strong corporate profit reports, have gained in choppy trading despite coronavirus uncertainties.

More than 80% of companies in the S&P 500 that reported results so far have beaten analysts’ forecasts, according to FactSet. More than 100 are due to announce next week.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude rose 40 cents to $70.70 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $2.88 on Wednesday to $70.30. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 33 cents to $72.56 per barrel in London. It advanced $2.88 the previous session to $72.23.

The dollar gained to 110.32 from Wednesday's 110.28 yen. The euro declined to $1.1788 from $1.1799.