* Weekly jobless claims rise to 244,000 vs. est. 242,000
* Philip Morris, Verizon fall after quarterly results
* American Express up on profit beat
* Investors eye first round of French election this Sunday
* Futures up: Dow 36 pts, S&P 6.25 pts, Nasdaq 19.75 pts (Adds details, comment, updates prices)
By Tanya Agrawal
April 20 (Reuters) - Wall Street looked set to open higher on Thursday, helped by a rebound in oil prices and increased optimism around the first-quarter earnings season.
Oil prices regained some ground, after steep losses in the previous session, as leading producers signaled a likely extension of OPEC-led supply cuts beyond the middle of the year.
“We’re looking at a higher opening, helped by a rebound in oil prices,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial in New York.
“We’ve had some strong earnings with more positive surprises than negative, but the overall market trend remains negative because of geopolitical concerns.”
With Wall Street near record levels and worries over President Donald Trump’s ability to deliver on his pro-growth promises, investors are hoping first-quarter earnings will be strong enough to justify lofty market valuations.
Of the 57 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings through Wednesday morning, about 75 percent have topped expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data, above the 71 percent average for the past four quarters.
Overall, profits of S&P 500 companies are estimated to have risen 10.8 percent in the quarter, the best since 2011.
Key companies scheduled to report results on Thursday include Dow component and toymaker Mattel.
However, mounting tensions between North Korea and the United States and the looming French presidential elections are keeping investors away from making risky bets.
A closely watched poll showed Centrist Emmanuel Macron hung on to his lead as favorite to win France’s presidential election in a four-way race that is too close to call.
Dow e-minis were up 36 points, or 0.18 percent, with 26,966 contracts changing hands at 8:17 a.m. ET (1217 GMT).
S&P 500 e-minis were up 6.25 points, or 0.27 percent, with 128,500 contracts traded.
Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 19.75 points, or 0.37 percent, on volume of 22,993 contracts.
Shares of Philip Morris fell 5 percent to $110.20 in premarket trading after the tobacco maker’s first-quarter profit forecast came in below estimates.
Verizon Communications was down 2.3 percent at $47.81 as the No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier reported a 20 percent fall in quarterly profit.
Qualcomm rose 2.2 percent to $53.75 after the largest maker of chips used in smartphones, reported quarterly revenue and profit that beat analysts’ estimates.
American Express was up 2.4 percent at $77.39 after the company’s first-quarter profit fell less than expected .
New applications for U.S. jobless benefits rose slightly more than expected last week, but the number of Americans on unemployment rolls dropped to a 17-year low, pointing to a tightening labor market.
Initial jobless claims increased to 244,000, above the 242,000 rise expected. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Anil D’Silva)