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Here are the most important news items that investors need to start their trading day:

1. Earnings juice

A stronger-than-expected earnings season is driving U.S. stocks to new highs. The broad-based S&P 500 index rose about 0.8% on Wednesday, settling just below 5,000 to notch a record close. The Nasdaq Composite and Dow Jones Industrial Average both rose, as well. Walt Disney shares jumped in premarket trading Thursday as the media titan posted the type of results seen across many sectors in recent weeks: strong earnings growth without much of an increase in sales. In fact, when about half of the S&P had reported fourth-quarter results as of Tuesday, earnings had climbed 8.1% from the year-ago period, while sales had only increased 3.2%. The release of weekly jobless claims data is among the factors that will determine whether equities hit a record Thursday. Follow live stock market updates here.

2. Mighty Mouse

3. Embattled bank

Investors are again watching the health of regional banks as the one-year anniversary of the March 2023 crisis approaches. Shares of New York Community Bank were volatile Wednesday, after Moody’s Investors Service downgraded its credit rating two notches to junk and the company announced it was promoting its chairman, Alessandro DiNello, to help stabilize its operations. The regional bank’s shares have been in free fall, losing more than 50% of their market value this year. The moves reflect concerns that smaller banks are being hit by shrinking profits and losses in real estate.

4. Ack-man of the people

Hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman of Pershing Square is planning to launch a new investment vehicle listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The fund will have no minimum investment and plans to buy into one to two dozen large-cap, “durable growth” companies in the U.S., according to a regulatory filing. The move is an aim to leverage his following among Main Street investors. Ackman has recently tried to expand his popularity beyond Wall Street.

5. Arms race

Arm, which designs chips for smartphones and a range of other devices, beat earnings estimates and offered a strong forecast as it said AI is boosting sales. Shares soared as much as 41% in extended trading. Arm is among the latest winners in a stock market recently driven by technology companies and in part by hopes about growth fueled by AI.

– CNBC’s Yun Li, Robert Hum, Sarah Whitten, Alex Sherman, Hugh Son and Kif Leswing contributed to this report.

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