Active broad-market exchange-traded funds ahead of Thursday's regular session:
SPDR S&P 500 ( SPY ): +0.2%
iShares MSCI Emerging Index Fund ( EEM ): -0.1%
SPDR Select Sector Fund - Financial ( XLF ): +0.3%
VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF ( GDX ): +0.4%
Credit Suisse AG - VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short Term ETN ( TVIX ): -2.7%
Broad Market Indicators
Broad-market exchange-traded funds, including SPY, IWM and IVV edged higher. Actively traded PowerShares QQQ (QQQ) was up 0.4%.
US stock futures were pointing to a higher open as trade war jitters receded and following the decision by the European Central Bank to omit language from its policy statement favorable to increasing quantitative easing.
In other economic data news, US weekly jobless claims rose by 21,000 to 231,000 -- the highest level in six years. Economists had forecast claims to total 220,000.
Crude oil futures were flat as traders looked ahead to the weekly rig count. Earlier in the week, the IEA said that US production would continue to soar in the next two years. The agency predicts that the US will become the world's biggest oil producer surpassing Russia.
Power Play: Health Care
Health Care SPDR (XLV) was up 0.3% and other health care funds Vanguard Health Care ETF (VHT) and iShares Dow Jones US Healthcare (IYH) were quiet. Biotechnology fund iShares NASDAQ Biotechnology Index (IBB) was up 0.4%.
Express Scripts Holding Company (ESRX) rose more than 17% after it entered into a definitive agreement to be bought by Cigna (CI) in a cash and stock transaction valued at approximately $67 billion, including Cigna's assumption of approximately $15 billion in Express Scripts debt. The merger consideration will consist of $48.75 in cash and 0.2434 shares of stock of the combined company per Express Scripts share. The transaction was approved by the board of directors of each company. The combined company will be named Cigna, according to a joint statement from the two companies. The deal is slated for completion by Dec. 31, and is subject to approval by Cigna and Express Scripts shareholders and the satisfaction of customary closing conditions.
Winners and Losers
The Select Financial Sector SPDRs ( XLF ) was up 0.3%. Direxion Daily Financial Bull 3X shares (FAS) and its bearish counterpart Direxion Daily Financial Bear 3X shares (FAZ) were flat.
Technology Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLK) was up 0.3% and other tech funds iShares Dow Jones US Technology ETF (IYW), iShares S&P North American Technology ETF (IGM) and iShares S&P North American Technology-Software Index (IGV) were quiet.
Among semiconductor ETFs, SPDR S&P Semiconductor (XSD) was flat while Semiconductor Sector Index Fund (SOXX) was up 0.4%.
RadNet (RDNT) reported Q4 EPS in line with Street views, and topped revenue outlooks. The company reported Q4 EPS of $0.13, up from $0.08 and exactly in line with the average of two analysts as compiled by Capital IQ. RadNet reported Q4 revenue of $235.6 million, up from $224.9 million and above the Street view of $228.5 million. In guidance RadNet said it expects 2018 revenue of $950 million to $975 million, above the Street view of $931.6 million.
Dow Jones US Energy Fund (IYE) was flat and Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE) was down 0.2%.
Total S.A (TOT) rose 0.4% after it said it completed the acquisition of Denmark-based Maersk Oil from AP Moller-Maersk A/S for a total equity value of EUR4.21 billion ($4.95 billion). The French oil major has issued a total of 97.5 million shares of its common stock to AP Moller-Maersk as consideration for the transaction.
Crude was up 0.2%. United States Oil Fund (USO) was down 0.2%. Natural gas was up 0.1% while United States Natural Gas Fund (UNG) was up 0.2%.
Gold was down 0.2%. SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) was down 0.1%. Silver was down 0.8%, while iShares Silver Trust (SLV) was down 0.1%.
Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR (XLP) and other funds Vanguard Consumer Staples ETF (VDC) and iShares Dow Jones US Consumer Goods (IYK) were flat.
Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR (XLY) and retail funds SPDR S&P Retail (XRT), PowerShares Dynamic Retail (PMR) and Market Vectors Retail ETF (RTH) were also quiet in pre-market trading .
The Kroger Company (KR) fell 5% after it reported Q4 adjusted net earnings of $0.63 per share, up from $0.53 for the year-ago quarter, and matching the Capital IQ consensus forecast. Revenue for the quarter was $31.03 billion, up from $27.61 billion for the same period last year, and ahead of the analyst forecast of $30.81 billion. For its 2018 guidance, the company said it expects net earnings in a range of $1.95 to $2.15 per diluted share, straddling the $2.12 per share GAAP consensus with capital investments, excluding mergers, acquisitions, and purchases of leased facilities, of approximately $3.0 billion. It also expects its 2018 tax rate to be approximately 22%. The company is also targeting identical supermarket sales growth, excluding fuel, to range from 1.5% to 2.0% in 2018.