US stocks edged higher as data in the world's largest economy showed jobless claims fell to a five-year low over the past month.
The number of claims in the month ended August 17th dropped to 330,500 a week on average, the least since November 2007, according to a Labor Department report.
Compared with a week earlier, claims rose by 13,000 to 336,000, in line with the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
The prior week's figure was revised up by 3,000 to 323,000, a five-year low.
The report comes as the Federal Reserve weighs up whether to start scaling back its $85bn per month in bond purchases.
Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee's meeting last month showed members were broadly Chairman Ben Bernanke's plan to begin tapering stimulus this year as long as the economy continues to improve.
Several participants said tapering may be needed soon as the FOMC indicated that it expects economic growth will continue to improve in the second half.
"While it's far from a certainty, the minutes from the FOMC meeting back in late July appear to support our view that the Fed will begin to slow its monthly asset purchases at the next meeting in mid-September," according to Paul Ashworth, Chief US Economist at Capital Economics.
Ashworth suspects that officials may begin with an initial reduction of $10bn to $75bn.
President of the Federal Reserve bank of Boston, Eric Rosengren, said any tapering should be "limited" in an interview with The Wall Street Journal after the release of the minutes on Wednesday.
He said he was still forming a judgment about whether the economy was improving as expected. "This is a good time to be patient and very watchful," Rosengren said.
On the company front, shares
of Hewlett Packard plunged following the release of its latest quarterly results after last night's close.
It came alongside poor results out from the likes of Stage Stores, Hormel Foods, Sears and the iconic fashion-retailer Abercrombie&Fitch.
Wells Fargo gained following reports it would lay-off 2,300 people in its mortgage production unit.
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.37% in July from 4.07% in June, and is the highest since July 2011 when it was 4.55%; the rate was 3.55% in July 2012.
Acting as a backdrop, of the 482 companies in the S&P 500
that have reported quarterly earnings this period, 71% surpassed profit estimates, Bloomberg data shows. Company earnings are one of the relatively few bright spots although some analysts believe it will be a few months yet before they may translate into higher equity prices.
Conference Board index rises
The Conference Board's Leading Economic Index (LEI) for the US rose 0.6% in July to 96.0 following no change in June, and a 0.3% increase in May.
It beat economists' forecasts for a 0.5% increase.
Ataman Ozyildirim, Economist at The Conference Board, said: "Following moderate growth in the last few months, the US LEI picked up in July, with widespread gains among its components. The pace of the LEI's growth over the last six months has nearly doubled, pointing to a gradually strengthening expansion through the end of the year. In July, average workweek in manufacturing was the weakest component".
Other asset classes slide
10 year US Treasury yields were down 0.02 basis points to the 2.88% mark.
Front month West Texas crude futures fell $0.298 to $104.160 per barrel on the ICE.