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Futures Up as Jobless Claims Fall

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stock futures pointed to a stronger open Thursday as initial jobless claims unexpectedly shed 20,000 and oil prices retreated.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up by 83 points at 12,129. Futures for the S&P 500 were higher by 11 points, or 9 points above fair value, at 1317, and Nasdaq futures were ahead by 19 points, or 15 points above fair value.

Stocks managed to close Wednesday's session with slight gains after a strong ADP jobs report and mildly positive outlook from the Federal Reserve helped offset geopolitical jitters.

Initial jobless claims shed 20,000 to 368,000 in the week ended Feb. 26, from 388,000, previously. The level was better than the increase to 400,000 from last week's initially reported level of 391,000, that economists had been expecting, according to Briefing.com.

On Wednesday, Automatic Data Processing said the private sector saw better-than-expected job growth of 217,000 in February. On Friday, the government will release its February unemployment report. According to Briefing.com, economists are anticipating job growth of 200,000, although the unemployment rate is projected to rise to 9.1%, from 9% in January.

Oil prices retreated Thursday, a day after oil closed above $102 a barrel for the first time in more than two years, amid reports that Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi accepted Venezuela's offer to mediate Libya's crisis . Oil prices were still hovering above $101 a barrel, with the April crude contract trading $1.19 lower at $101.04. Libyan warplanes struck the oil terminal town Brega and have been pushed back to Ras Lanuf, another important terminal.

The European Central Bank kept rates unchanged at 1.00% , as expected.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.3% and Japan's Nikkei rose 0.9%. London's FTSE was trading 1.2% higher and the DAX in Frankfurt was ahead by 1.4%.

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