US STOCKS-Futures hover near record highs as investors count on trade deal

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* Futures up: Dow 0.12%, S&P 0.16%, Nasdaq 0.12%

Dec 26 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures were near record highs on Thursday on optimism that an initial U.S.-China trade deal would be signed soon, easing a dispute that has rattled global markets for the past 17 months.

Reaffirming expectations of an imminent Phase 1 trade deal, China’s Commerce Ministry said on Thursday it was in close touch with the United States about the pact. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that the agreement would be signed in early January.

Hopes of a breakthrough in the prolonged trade war, combined with a loose monetary policy and robust domestic data, have powered U.S. stock markets to record highs in the past few weeks and set the S&P 500 on course for its best year since 2013.

The recent gains have also come as a relief for investors, who were anxious about a repetition of the volatility from December 2018, when escalating trade tensions between the world’s top two economies led to the worst December on Wall Street since the Great Depression.

On Tuesday, the Nasdaq recorded its ninth straight all-time closing high, in a shortened session ahead of the Christmas holiday. Trading volumes are expected to remain thin this week.

Underlining relatively strong consumer confidence, a report on Wednesday showed U.S. shoppers spent more online during this year’s holiday shopping season, with e-commerce sales hitting a record high.

At 7:16 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 35 points, or 0.12%. S&P 500 e-minis were up 5 points, or 0.16% and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 10.25 points, or 0.12%.

Among the few corporate movers premarket, Tesla Inc shares edged up 0.5% as Wedbush boosted its price target on the electric carmaker’s stock, partly on expectations of strong U.S. demand for the Model 3 sedans. (Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)