Wall street
Wall Street began the week in the red as oil prices fell iStock

US equity markets moved higher early on Thursday (18 February) with investors buoyed by a report that showed the labour market remains in good health, despite the ongoing worries over a global slowdown.

Shortly after the opening bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.20% to 16,486.81 while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were 0.05% and 0.12% higher respectively. Wall Street ended the previous session firmly in the black, following the release of the minutes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting, which showed policymakers could be prepared to postpone a further rate increase due to the current market volatility.

On the macroeconomic front, official figures released by the Labor Department showed initial jobless claims declined by 7,000 to 262,000 in the week to 13 February, falling below consensus for a 275,000 reading and reaching a three-month low. Meanwhile, the average of new claims slid by 8,000 to 273,250 over the past month reaching its lowest level since the week before Christmas.

"It's too soon to draw any definitive conclusions, but we think the data are consistent with the idea that the underlying trend in claims is more or less steady in the low 270,000s," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

"Job losses among exporters and the oil sector are too small to make much difference to the aggregate number, given the strength of the domestic services economy."

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve said its index, an important gauge of manufacturing conditions, rose from -3.5 to -2.8 but remained in negative territory for the sixth consecutive month.

Elsewhere, oil prices rallied after Iran offered its support to the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia, under which the two countries said they would commit to freeze production if other producers followed suit.

West Texas Intermediate was up 3.46% to $31.76 (£22.13, €28.67) a barrel, while Brent crude gained 3.09% to $35.60 a barrel.

"Aside from the direct impact on oil-related stocks that the sell-off has had, we've also recently seen the secondary impact on the banks and the rise in non-performing loans that are linked to it," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda.

"A rebound in price to a more sustainable level in the coming months could alleviate some of the pressure on a number of stocks and provide a boost to the broader markets."

However, despite the rebound in crude prices, US oil stocks were mixed, with Devon slumping, while ConocoPhillips was edging higher. Discount retail giant Wal-Mart Stores was in the red after its fourth-quarter sales missed expectations, while Yahoo! was on the front foot after unveiling plans to close seven of its digital magazines.

Asian markets were largely in the black, although the Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.16%, while European stocks, with the exception of London's FTSE 100, were on track to post another session of gains.