Stocks Poised to Pop

With economic data cleared, traders focus on earnings.
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Traders went long ahead of several big earnings reports Thursday, as a rally that has lifted the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

more than 2% this month looked to find fresh fuel.

Index futures recently showed the

S&P 500

trading 3 points above fair value, while the Nasdaq 100 was set for a 7-point gain. The 10-year Treasury bond was down 5/32 in price to yield 4.49%, while the dollar fell against the yen and euro.

Stocks have struggled for the last three sessions as government reports showed mild pressure on inflation. After the deluge of data that marked the start of the week, Thursday's strength could reflect the relative absence of more inflation news in the days to come. Still, investors will see reports on housing starts, building permits, initial claims and industrial production on Thursday.

Another sore spot for the market has been

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

, whose shares plunged almost 6% to a 19-year low on Wednesday due to concerns about the status of labor negotiations with bankrupt supplier

Delphi

(DPHIQ)

.

Energy prices were also a drag on equities Wednesday as the December crude contract bounced 90 cents from a four-month low. In electronic Nymex trading Thursday, the contract added another 12 cents to $58, while unleaded gasoline futures climbed nearly 2 cents to $1.50 a gallon.

Gains in oil company stocks helped limit the damage in Wednesday session. On Instinet recently,

BP

(BP) - Get Report

gained 1.3% to $65.90, while

Conoco

(COP) - Get Report

fell half a percent to $64.50.

Overseas markets were broadly higher, with London's FTSE 100 recently up 0.7% to 5466 and Germany's Xetra DAX adding 0.8% to 5123. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei rose 1.7% overnight to 14,412, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.9% to 14,788.

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Report

fell 1.9% on Instinet after the chip-equipment maker reported lower quarterly profit and warned that its pace of order growth will slow in the current period. In the fiscal fourth quarter, the company earned $247 million, or 15 cents a share, down from $455 million, or 27 cents a share, last year.

Other big earnings reports Thursday include

Disney

(DIS) - Get Report

,

Hewlett-Packard

(HPQ) - Get Report

, the

Gap

(GPS) - Get Report

and

Starbucks

(SBUX) - Get Report

.