Wall Street opens higher as earnings season kicks into gear

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Wall Street opened higher on Thursday, helped by increased optimism around the first-quarter earnings season, but oil prices failed to hold on to their gains.

With Wall Street near record levels and worries over President Donald Trump's ability to deliver on his pro-growth promises, investors are hoping first-quarter earnings will be strong enough to justify lofty market valuations.

Of the 57 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings through Wednesday morning, about 75 per cent have topped expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data, above the 71 per cent average for the past four quarters.

Overall, profits of S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 10.8 percent in the quarter, the best since 2011. "We've had some strong earnings with more positive surprises than negative, but the overall market trend remains negative because of geopolitical concerns," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial in New York.

Mounting tensions between North Korea and the United States and the looming French presidential elections are keeping investors away from making risky bets.

A closely watched poll showed Centrist Emmanuel Macron hung on to his lead as favorite to win France's presidential election in a four-way race that is too close to call.

Brent crude futures were down 6 cents at US$52.87 (S$73.8) per barrel as bloated inventories weighed.

At 9:34 a.m. ET (9:34 p.m Singapore time) the Dow Jones industrial average was up 48.9 points, or 0.24 per cent, at 20,453.39, the S&P 500 was up 6.86 points, or 0.29 per cent, at 2,345.03. The Nasdaq Composite was up 29.20 points, or 0.5 per cent, at 5,892.23.

Seven of the 11 major S&P sectors were higher, with the financial index's 0.85 per cent rise leading the gainers.