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US: Wall St opens higher as Britain votes on EU membership

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[NEW YORK] Wall Street opened higher for the fourth straight day on Thursday as Britain seemed to swing towards remaining in the European Union, a scenario that would avert a possible financial crisis.

Markets across the globe have been rattled over the past two weeks as investors speculated about the consequences of Britain's exit from the European union, including the unravelling of the bloc.

The "Remain" camp has found 52 per cent favour, according to an Ipsos MORI poll conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday. The final result of the referendum will be known on Friday.

US markets also took solace in Fed Chair Janet Yellen's two-day testimony this week when she expressed optimism about the economy and downplayed the chances of a recession this year.

"The markets are the best judge of what is going to happen and they are saying that Britain will remain. The key is the strong jump in the pound," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial in New York. "If there was any doubt that Great Britain would leave, we would see gold soaring and a rush to safe havens, but we're not seeing that."

The sterling hit a year-high on Thursday while gold, which had gained favour amid uncertainty in the past month, fell to a two-week low.

Oil prices rose despite a smaller-than-expected draw on US crude as appetite for risky assets increased on better odds for Britain to remain in the EU.

CBOE Volatility Index, the market's measure of turbulence, fell 15.16 per cent to 18.01, compared to its long-term average of 20.

At 9:35 am ET (1335 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 156.42 points, or 0.88 per cent, at 17,937.25. None of the 30 blue-chips stocks were in the red.

The S&P 500 was up 16.41 points, or 0.79 per cent, at 2,101.86.

The Nasdaq Composite was up 33.87 points, or 0.7 per cent, at 4,867.19.

All 10 major S&P sectors were higher, led by a 1.11 per cent rise in the financial index after JPMorgan rose 1.6 per cent and Citigroup rose 2.8 per cent.

Markets were also buoyed by data that pointed to a resilient labour market. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week to a near 43-year low.

Data from the US Commerce Department is likely to show new home sales slumped 8.7 per cent in May. The data is expected at 10:00 am ET.

Micron Tech rose 6.8 per cent to $13.58 after Susquehanna raised rating to "positive" from "neutral". The stock was the biggest percentage gainer among S&P components.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,381 to 298. On the Nasdaq, 1,855 issues rose and 376 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed 35 new 52-week highs and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 29 new highs and five new lows.

REUTERS