* Jobless claims fall, housing starts accelerate
* EBay gains after results beat expectations
* Bank of America, Citigroup shares fall after results
* Futures up: S&P 9.4 pts, Dow 68 pts, Nasdaq 17 pts
By Leah Schnurr
NEW YORK, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Wall Street was set to open
higher on Thursday after better-than-expected results from
online marketplace eBay and as data showed first-time
claims for unemployment benefits dropped to a five-year low.
Futures added to gains following cheery economic reports
that also showed that groundbreaking to build new homes picked
up in December to its fastest pace in over four years. Separate
data showed jobless claims tumbled last week in a hopeful sign
for the labor market.
"It's great news and it should take the markets higher,"
Frank Lesh, a futures analyst and broker at FuturePath Trading
LLC in Chicago, said of the data.
EBay's shares rose 2.9 percent to $54.41 in premarket
trading, a day after it reported holiday quarter results that
just beat Wall Street expectations. It gave a 2013 forecast that
was within analysts' estimates.
Shares of Bank of America and Citigroup were
indicated lower after the two major banks reported results. Bank
of America's fourth-quarter profit fell from a year ago as it
took more charges to clean up mortgage-related problems, while
Citigroup posted $2.32 billion of charges for layoffs and
lawsuits, though its fourth-quarter profit rose.
Bank of America fell 0.8 percent to $11.69 in premarket
trading, while Citigroup dropped 2.4 percent to $41.45.
After Wednesday's close, the S&P 500 was less than 2 points
away from hitting a fresh five-year high on an intraday basis. A
gain above September's intraday peak of 1,474.51 would put it at
its highest since late December 2007. The S&P closed at 1,472.63
S&P 500 futures rose 9.4 points and were above fair
value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account
interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the
contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures gained 68
points, while Nasdaq 100 futures added 17 points.
Solid earnings from Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase
on Wednesday helped lift estimates for S&P 500 corporate
earnings slightly to a 2.2 percent gain, Thomson Reuters data
But expectations have come down significantly from where
they were in October. With investors anticipating a lackluster
earnings season, the focus will be on the corporate earnings
outlook for the months ahead, analysts said.
"That gives you a bigger picture of where the economy might
be headed. I think you have to stitch together all the
information and get a true picture of how robust the economies
of the world are," said Kim Forrest, senior equity research
analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.
"We've all dismissed what's going to happen in this fourth
quarter. Estimates are pretty low, the companies that can't step
over the lower bar are probably going to get punished."
Shares of Boeing extended a recent slump after the
United States and other countries grounded the new 787
Dreamliner following a second incident involving battery
failure. Boeing was down 1.8 percent at $73.02.