March 23, 2017 / 12:55 PM / in 2 years

US STOCKS-Wall St set to open higher; healthcare vote in focus

* Weekly jobless claims rise unexpectedly

* Accenture falls after quarterly profit slips

* Futures up: Dow 16 pts, S&P 4.75 pts, Nasdaq 8 pts (Adds details, comments, updates prices)

By Tanya Agrawal

March 23 (Reuters) - Wall Street looked set to open slightly higher on Thursday as investors picked up beaten-down stocks, but focus remained firmly on a vote on the healthcare bill - President Donald Trump’s first significant policy test.

Trump and Republican lawmakers pushed on Wednesday for votes for their plan to overhaul Obamacare and said they were making progress in their efforts to win over conservative members of the party who have demanded changes to the legislation.

With a vote on the bill possible as soon as Thursday, losing or delaying it would bruise investors’ confidence in Trump’s ability to deliver on his promises of tax cuts and infrastructure spending.

“Even if Trump gets the healthcare bill through the House, which is questionable, it’s all but certain to fail in the Senate. That seems to be the political wisdom,” said John Traynor, chief investment officer at People’s United Bank in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

“I don’t believe Trump has fully recognized that political capital is very valuable. With his tweets and his statements he’s squandering it and investors are concerned about that if this vote goes poorly, then what are the implications for tax reform and repatriation of offshore capital.”

The S&P 500 has gained 10 percent since the election, spurred mainly by Trump’s campaign promises to enact legislation that are seen as pro-business, but high valuations of stocks remain a concern.

The benchmark index is trading at about 18 times expected forward earnings, compared with a 10-year average of 14, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Wall Street ended mixed after a choppy session on Wednesday as investors focused on the fate of the healthcare bill and snapped up stocks after a steep drop the day before.

“I’m not calling for a major correction as of yet, but for investors who want to remain invested largely in equities, I suggest it’s a good time to think about buying a protection to protect from a market downturn,” said Hussein Sayed, chief market strategist at FXTM.

Dow e-minis were up 16 points, or 0.08 percent, with 22,577 contracts changing hands at 8:32 a.m. ET (1232 GMT).

S&P 500 e-minis were up 4.75 points, or 0.2 percent, with 136,023 contracts traded.

Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 8 points, or 0.15 percent, on volume of 22,214 contracts.

Minneapolis Fed Chief Neel Kashkari and Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan are also due to make appearances later in the day.

The U.S. central bank raised rates by 25 basis points last week and reiterated that it would raise rates twice more this year, fewer than the three hikes expected by the market.

Data showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 15,000 to 258,000 for the week ended March 18.

Oil prices climbed off four-month lows but the recovery was cautious with investors fretting that OPEC-led supply cuts were not yet reducing record U.S. crude inventories.

Among stocks, Five Below rose 6.7 percent to $40.70 in premarket trading after the retailer’s quarterly earnings beat estimates.

PVH was up 7.3 percent at $97.50 after the branded apparel maker’s full-year profit forecast came above expectations.

Accenture fell 2.6 percent to $123.25 after the consulting and outsourcing services provider’s quarterly profit slipped. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

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