Here are the most important news items that investors need to start their trading day:
1. Stock futures are up
U.S. markets on Thursday were set to rise again after a government report showing that inflation is cooling fueled a Wednesday rally. All three major indexes are coming off a strong day: The Dow surged more than 500 points, while the S&P 500 hit its highest point since early May, and the Nasdaq landed its highest close since April. Ahead of Thursday's session, investors are chewing over Disney's earnings from Wednesday evening (more on that below), while looking forward to the producer price index and weekly jobs claims data later in the morning.
2. Gas falls to under $4 a gallon
Gasoline prices in the United States have been declining for several weeks now, but the average cost of a gallon fell below a key psychological barrier this week. A gallon of regular gas is now going for $3.99, the lowest level since March, AAA said Thursday. Prices reached a record of $5.02 in June, and were indeed higher than that in several places across the nation. The news came a day after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that growth in the consumer price index, a measure of inflation, cooled a bit more than expected in July. Prices remain high, but the relief from declining gas prices and slower inflation could help the economy fend off a recession, at least for the moment, writes CNBC's Jeff Cox.
3. Disney's streaming changes
Disney pretty much had the earnings spotlight to itself Wednesday evening, and it took full of advantage of that. The entertainment behemoth delivered a deluge of news that pushed its stock higher in off-hours trading: Quarterly results beat Wall Street's expectations on the top and bottom lines, the parks business performed well, and streaming subscriber additions easily topped projections. The company raised prices for its streaming offerings, while it scaled back its ambitious longer-term target for Disney+ subscribers by 15 million, which multiple industry analysts had called for. And it appears the company gave investors what they were looking for, especially as streaming leader Netflix scrambles to adjust its business amid hefty subscriber losses and Warner Bros. Discovery puts more emphasis on theatrical releases and traditional linear TV. Disney shares rose by a healthy margin before the bell Thursday, following Wednesday's nearly 4% gain.
4. Ford CEO's EV battery warning
Electric vehicle makers, such as Ford Motor and Tesla, have increased prices recently, pushed in large part by rising costs for the materials to make batteries. Don't expect that to change in the foreseeable future, Ford CEO Jim Farley said Wednesday. "I don't think there's going to be much relief on lithium, cobalt and nickel anytime soon," he told reporters. Farley's warning came as Congress was set to pass a climate and health-care bill that includes several provisions intended to shift Americans away from gas engines toward electric vehicles, which are costly and in relatively short supply. Several key figures in the industry, however, are warning that the legislation could actually hamper sales.
5. U.S. rethinks China tariff strategy
The Biden administration is reconsidering its strategy related to tariffs on Chinese goods in the wake of China's aggressive response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, Reuters reports. The Chinese government claims dominion over Taiwan, a self-ruled island, and it conducted several large military drills nearby to protest Pelosi's trip. President Joe Biden and his team had been considering whether to ditch some existing tariffs on Chinese goods, and possibly impose more, but officials set those options aside, and Biden has yet to make a decision, according to the report.
– CNBC's Samantha Subin, Jeff Cox, Alex Sherman, Sarah Whitten, Pippa Stevens, John Rosevear and Michael Wayland contributed to this report.