* Jobless claims fall, housing starts accelerate
* EBay gains after results beat expectations
* Bank of America, Citigroup shares fall after results
* Futures up: S&P 9.4 pts, Dow 68 pts, Nasdaq 17 pts
By Leah Schnurr
NEW YORK, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Wall Street was set to open higher on Thursday after better-than-expected results from online marketplace eBay and as data showed first-time claims for unemployment benefits dropped to a five-year low.
Futures added to gains following cheery economic reports that also showed that groundbreaking to build new homes picked up in December to its fastest pace in over four years. Separate data showed jobless claims tumbled last week in a hopeful sign for the labor market.
“It’s great news and it should take the markets higher,” Frank Lesh, a futures analyst and broker at FuturePath Trading LLC in Chicago, said of the data.
EBay’s shares rose 2.9 percent to $54.41 in premarket trading, a day after it reported holiday quarter results that just beat Wall Street expectations. It gave a 2013 forecast that was within analysts’ estimates.
Shares of Bank of America and Citigroup were indicated lower after the two major banks reported results. Bank of America’s fourth-quarter profit fell from a year ago as it took more charges to clean up mortgage-related problems, while Citigroup posted $2.32 billion of charges for layoffs and lawsuits, though its fourth-quarter profit rose.
Bank of America fell 0.8 percent to $11.69 in premarket trading, while Citigroup dropped 2.4 percent to $41.45.
After Wednesday’s close, the S&P 500 was less than 2 points away from hitting a fresh five-year high on an intraday basis. A gain above September’s intraday peak of 1,474.51 would put it at its highest since late December 2007. The S&P closed at 1,472.63 on Wednesday.
S&P 500 futures rose 9.4 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures gained 68 points, while Nasdaq 100 futures added 17 points.
Solid earnings from Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase on Wednesday helped lift estimates for S&P 500 corporate earnings slightly to a 2.2 percent gain, Thomson Reuters data showed.
But expectations have come down significantly from where they were in October. With investors anticipating a lackluster earnings season, the focus will be on the corporate earnings outlook for the months ahead, analysts said.
“That gives you a bigger picture of where the economy might be headed. I think you have to stitch together all the information and get a true picture of how robust the economies of the world are,” said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.
“We’ve all dismissed what’s going to happen in this fourth quarter. Estimates are pretty low, the companies that can’t step over the lower bar are probably going to get punished.”
Shares of Boeing extended a recent slump after the United States and other countries grounded the new 787 Dreamliner following a second incident involving battery failure. Boeing was down 1.8 percent at $73.02.