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US: Healthcare, tech stocks drive Wall Street higher

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[NEW YORK] Wall Street opened higher on Thursday as a flurry of strong corporate results from healthcare companies and a multi-billion dollar deal in the technology sector boosted sentiment about equity markets.

Profits at S&P 500 companies have largely exceeded analysts'estimates for the third quarter so far, setting up for the first profit growth since the second quarter of 2015.

Overall earnings for the S&P 500 companies in the latest quarter are expected to rise 2.2 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Investors also took Qualcomm's deal to buy NXP Semiconductors for about US$47 billion as a sign of confidence in the US equity market.

NXP's shares rose 2.32 per cent, while Qualcomm was the top stock on the S&P at 4 per cent higher. Stocks of other chipmakers including Micron Tech were also higher.

The health sector rose 0.78 per cent, the top gainer among the 11 major S&P 500 indexes, led by gains in Bristol-Myers and Celgene following strong results.

The health sector has been among the worst performers this month as investors remain concerned about policies such as drug pricing which has been a key point of discussion in the run-up to the Nov 8 US presidential election.

"Thus far with low expectations for earnings growth, profits have pleasantly surprised to the upside and there is a little bit of a rotation taking place out of big single names like Apple into other names like Tesla," said John Brady, senior vice president at RJ O'Brien & Associates in Chicago.

"Likewise, energy names are under-owned and if crude stays around the US$50 level, money is going to come out of the sidelines and into these companies."

Oil prices rose for the first time this week on Thursday as a further drop in US crude inventories countered investor doubts that Opec will be able to implement a production cut.

At 9:38 am ET (1338 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 30.44 points, or 0.17 per cent, at 18,229.77.

The S&P 500 was up 3.84 points, or 0.18 per cent, at 2,143.27 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 16.57 points, or 0.32 per cent, at 5,266.84.

Data on Thursday showed the number of American filing for jobless claims fell last week, pointing to a firming labor market, while a separate report showed new orders for US manufactured capital goods unexpectedly fell in September amid weak demand for electronic products.

The data will play into the Federal Reserve's decision on interest rates at its policy meeting next week. Though a rate hike is not the likely outcome of the meeting that falls days before the US presidential election, traders expect the Fed to chalk a more definite path for a move in December.

Twitter rose nearly 5 per cent after its quarterly results beat expectations. The technology sector was the second biggest boost on the S&P.

Tesla jumped 4.4 per cent to US$211.33 after the electric carmaker reported its first quarterly net profit in more than three years.

F5 Networks jumped nearly 10 per cent and was the biggest gainer on the S&P, after its quarterly revenue beat estimates.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,395 to 1,200. On the Nasdaq, 1,400 issues rose and 763 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed 11 new 52-week highs and two new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 32 new highs and 24 new lows.