Wall Street opens slightly higher, Hurricane Irma in focus

 A man walks on the shore as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, on Sept 7, 2017.
A man walks on the shore as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in Nagua, on Sept 7, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Wall Street opened flat on Thursday (Sept 6) after the European Central Bank kept its monetary policy unchanged, while investors kept an eye on Hurricane Irma, which is on track to hit Florida by the weekend.

The ECB also confirmed that asset purchases would continue at 60 billion euros (S$97.2 billion) per month at least until December, and said it could even expand or extend the bond buys, defying some expectations for policymakers to drop a reference to bigger bond purchases.

Investors were also tracking the path of Hurricane Irma, which has killed eight people on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin. Irma will become the second major hurricane to hit the US mainland in as many weeks after Hurricane Harvey, which claimed about 60 lives and caused property damage estimated as high as US$180 billion (S$243.2 billion) in Texas and Louisiana.

"As the hurricane moves, investors are looking for a better grip on the damage that can be done. There are far-reaching implications now that we have back-to-back ones," said Andre Bakhos, managing director of Janlyn Capital in Bernardsville, New Jersey.

Harvey also boosted US jobless claims to more than two-year high. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits soared by 62,000 to 298,000 for the week ended Sept. 2, a Labor Department report showed. Economists had expected a rise to 241,000, according to a Reuters poll.

At 9:39 a.m. ET (9:39 p.m. Singapore time), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 24.93 points, or 0.11 per cent, at 21,832.57 and the S&P 500 was up 2.26 points, or 0.09 per cent, at 2,467.8. The Nasdaq Composite was up 3.49 points, or 0.05 per cent, at 6,396.81. Wall Street rebounded on Wednesday after President Donald Trump agreed to pass an extension of the US debt limit until Dec. 15, potentially avoiding an unprecedented default on US government debt.

"We have a confluence of variables coming in together, creating greater uncertainty and may lead to a choppy market," Mr Bakhos said.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,507 to 964. On the Nasdaq, 1,147 issues rose and 1,140 fell.