Wall Street stocks close higher

NYSE trader Image copyright Reuters

Financial stocks lifted Wall Street on Thursday, as investors awaited quarterly results from several big banks.

The Dow Jones index rose 20.95 points, or 0.1%, to 21,553.09 - a fresh closing high - while the S&P 500 gained 4.61 points, or 0.19%, to 2,447.86.

The tech-focused Nasdaq rose 13.27 points, or 0.21%, to 6,274.44.

JP Morgan, Wells Fargo and Citigroup all issue earnings reports on Friday.

With investors predicting strong performances, the S&P500's financial index gained 0.6% on Thursday and was the best performer among the 11 major S&P sectors.

Wells Fargo climbed 0.8%, Goldman Sachs was up 1.3% and Morgan Stanley rose 1.3%.

"People are a trying to buy in ahead of tomorrow," said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial in Massachusetts.

Elsewhere, shares in retailer Target rose 4.8% after a positive second-quarter earnings forecast.

The news boosted other retailers, with Wal-Mart up 1.5% and Costco gaining 1.2%.

Shares in Delta Air Lines slipped 1.8% after it reported a 21% drop in second-quarter profit.

The airline blamed sharply higher operating costs, even though its revenue per passenger climbed.