* Oil prices continue to hover near 7-year lows
* Weekly jobless claims rise to five-month high
* Men’s Wearhouse slumps on forecast warning
* Indexes up: Dow 0.26 pct, S&P 0.31 pct, Nasdaq 0.36 pct (Updates to open)
By Tanya Agrawal
Dec 10 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were higher at the open on Thursday, after three straight days of losses, even as oil prices continued to hover around 7-year lows and investors await a rate hike decision by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Markets have had a bruising week so far as equities tracked oil prices. Brent futures are down more than 6 percent this week and having dipped below $40 per barrel there are renewed expectations it might test 2008’s low.
U.S. stocks closed lower on Wednesday in a choppy session as oil resumed its decline, fuelling investor worries about global economic growth.
“The market will continue to watch oil carefully and we can expect a mixed to positive session if we don’t see any wild swings in oil prices like we did yesterday,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial in New York.
“Investors are awaiting Fed’s decision, and there has been some portfolio repositioning ahead of the meeting and that’s one reason the market has been erratic.”
The central bank meets on Dec. 15-16, when it is expected to raise rates for the first time in nearly a decade.
Traders are pricing in an 85 percent chance of a rate hike next week, according to the CME Group’s FedWatch.
At 9:44 a.m. ET (1444GMT) the Dow Jones industrial average was up 45.37 points, or 0.26 percent, at 17,537.67, the S&P 500 was up 6.27 points, or 0.31 percent, at 2,053.89 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 18.17 points, or 0.36 percent, at 5,041.04.
Microsoft’s 0.5 percent rise was the biggest boost on the S&P and the Nasdaq.
Eight of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors were higher with the health index’s 0.50 percent rise leading the advancers.
Data showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose to a five-month high of 282,000 last week, but likely does not signal a deterioration in the labor market as the underlying trend remained consistent with tightening conditions.
Separately, U.S. import prices dropped 0.4 percent last month after a revised 0.3 percent decrease in October, as the cost of petroleum continued to decline.
The Treasury Department is likely to post a budget deficit of $68 billion in November, compared to a gap of $136 billion in the previous month. That data is expected at 2:00 p.m. ET.
Men’s Wearhouse shares slumped 24.3 percent to $14.05, a day after the men’s apparel retailer warned it may miss lower end of its forecast.
First Solar was down 6.9 percent at $54.77 after the solar company’s 2016 forecast came in below analysts’ expectations.
GoPro was up 4.3 percent at $17.60, while Yum Brands fell 0.7 percent to $73.27 after the company’s same-restaurant sales in China fell about 3 percent in November.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,660 to 1,006. On the Nasdaq, 1,364 issues rose and 877 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed 1 new 52-week high and 4 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 10 new highs and 34 new lows. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Anil D‘Silva)