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US STOCKS-Pandemic boost for Big Tech set to drive Wall St higher

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* Apple eyes record high after strong results

* Dow constituents Caterpillar, Merck rise after reports

* Oil majors Chevron, Exxon fall after business updates

* Futures up: Dow 0.16%, S&P 0.26%, Nasdaq 1.14% (Adds quote, details; updates prices)

July 31 (Reuters) - Wall Street was set to open higher on Friday after tech titans Apple, and Facebook posted blowout quarterly earnings, helping keep nagging pandemic nerves at bay.

Apple Inc surged 7% premarket, setting the stock on course to open at a record high, as it delivered year-on-year revenue gains across every category and in every geography. Inc jumped 6.2% after posting the biggest profit in its 26-year history, while Facebook Inc gained 6.7% as it reported better-than-expected revenue.

Trading in Alphabet Inc was more subdued as quarterly sales fell for the first time in its 16 years as a public company.

A surge in the stock price of the four companies, which make up nearly a fifth of the S&P 500’s value, as well as aggressive fiscal and monetary stimulus have sent the tech-heavy Nasdaq to record highs and set the S&P 500 on course for its fourth straight monthly gain.

The benchmark index is now about 4% shy of its February all-time high, but faltering macroeconomic data and rising COVID-19 cases are making investors cautious again.

Figures on Thursday confirmed the sharpest contraction in U.S. GDP since the Great Depression, while rising jobless weekly claims suggested a nascent recovery in the labor market was stalling.

“There is a little bit of a balancing act between the positives and negatives - a deluge of pretty strong tech earnings that we got last night and then the struggle in Congress to try to get the COVID stimulus package passed,” said Dan Eye, head of asset allocation and equity research at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Investors betting on more U.S. government stimulus, before an extra $600-per-week federal jobless benefit expires on Friday, have also been disappointed as the Senate adjourned for the weekend and will return on Monday.

“We’ve already seen a lot of positives play out and that’s reflected in pricing. We don’t think that the market has priced in a cushion for unexpected events on the downside,” Eye said.

At 8:08 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 42 points, or 0.16%. S&P 500 e-minis were up 8.5 points, or 0.26% and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 123.5 points, or 1.14%.

The second quarter earning season is past the halfway mark with about 82.4% of companies beating significantly lowered estimates, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

Among blue-chip Dow constituents, Caterpillar Inc rose 3.6% after the heavy equipment maker beat quarterly profit forecast, while Merck & Co Inc gained 2.4% after raising its full-year earnings forecast.

Ford Motor Co rose 2.8% after signaling ample cash-on-hand for the year even as it forecast a full-year loss.

Drugmaker Gilead Sciences Inc fell 3.5% as it posted worse-than-expected quarterly results.

Oil majors Chevron Corp shed 3.5% after reporting an $8.3 billion loss on asset writedowns from plummeting fuel prices, while ExxonMobil Corp dropped 1.3% after a second consecutive quarterly loss. (Reporting by Medha Singh and Devik Jain in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)