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Stock Futures Turn Higher After U.S. Data

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stock futures were turning higher Thursday as investors digested some upbeat U.S. economic data and the latest policy announcement and comments from the Federal Reserve and Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were rising 15 points, or 3.55 points above fair value, at 13,245. Futures for the S&P 500 were up 0.60 points, or 0.12 points above fair value, at 1427. Futures for the Nasdaq were up 0.75 points, or 3.27 points below fair value, at 2671.

Major U.S. stock averages reversed gains in the final hour of trading on Wednesday as Bernanke answered reporters' questions.

During the question and answer session, Bernanke said it is clear that the "fiscal cliff" issue is having an impact on the economy, with the uncertainties about the negotiations affecting consumer and business sentiment and investment.

He said if the cliff did occur the Fed would not have the tools to offset it.

"Clearly the fiscal cliff is having effects on the economy ... we cannot offset the full impact of the fiscal cliff. It's just too big," he warned.

The drop in equities Wednesday came despite an earlier spike in the major indices after the central bank fulfilled the wishes of the markets for a fresh round of stimulus.

"Monetary policy will remain as much as science and the benchmarks outlined [Wednesday] are not binding constraints on policy," said Eric Green, global head of research for rates and foreign exchange at TD Securities. "There are three stages to this policy regime....First, accommodation....Second....let it run....Third....begin to tighten. We are in the first stage, and will get into the second stage in 2014 and we expect the Fed will remain accommodative long after the economy has gained traction.'"

Stage three, said Green, still looks set to be the second half of 2015.

On the U.S. "fiscal cliff" front, tensions are once again rising as Republicans criticize President Barack Obama's most recent budget plans as unbalanced and said they concentrate too heavily on tax increases on wealthy Americans and not enough on spending reductions.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims for the week ended Dec. 8 were 343,000, a decrease of 29,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 372,000.

"Initial claims showed substantial improvement in the past week," said Gennadiy Goldberg, a U.S. strategist at TD Securities.

The four-week moving average was 381,500, a decrease of 27,000 from the preceding week's average of 408,500.

Continuing claims for the week ended Dec. 1 were 3.198 million, a decrease of 23,000 from the prior week's upwardly revised level of 3.221 million.

On average, economists were expecting jobless claims to come in at 370,000 and continuing claims of 3.21 million.

The Census Bureau reported that retail sales increased 0.3% in November after falling 0.3% in October. Economists were expecting a 0.5% increase.

Excluding the auto component, sales remained flat like in October, as expected.

"Only three of 13 sectors saw sales decline in November," noted Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak. "The most recent data was boosted by gains within nonstore, building materials and electronics."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said Thursday that producer prices fell 0.8% in November after declining 0.2% in October; core data rose 0.1% after being down 0.2% the previous month. Economists, on average, expected producer prices to fall 0.5% in November and for core data to rise 0.2%.

At 10 a.m., the Census Bureau is anticipated to say that total business inventories rose 0.4% in October after increasing 0.7% in September.

The FTSE 100 in London was down 0.13% and the DAX in Germany was behind by 0.4% as the European markets assessed the latest comments from the Fed.

On Thursday, European Union finance ministers reached a banking union agreement.

Japan's Nikkei average finished ahead by 1.68% on Thursday thanks to a sharp decline in the yen. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index settled off by 0.26% as "fiscal cliff" uncertainties were offset by the persistent outperformance of Hong Kong-listed Chinese shares driven by foreign investment interest.

Gold for February delivery was plunging $21.20 at $1,696.70 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while January crude oil contracts were shedding 40 cents at $86.37 a barrel.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was rising 3/32, diluting the yield up to 1.693%. The dollar was up 0.18%, according to the U.S. dollar index .

In corporate news, Sprint (S) is looking to purchase the rest of Clearwire ( CLWR ) for $2.1 billion to attain complete ownership of the company's wireless spectrum.

Sprint shares were down 0.54% in premarket trading while Clearwire shares were popping over 12%.

Best Buy (BBY - Get Report) shares were jumping more than 16.5% in premarket trading Thursday amid reports that the electronic retailer's founder Richard Schulze plans to announce a formal $5 billion to $6 billion takeover offer this week for the company.

Google's (GOOG) Maps app is again available on Apple's (AAPL) iPhone.

Google's online mapping system returned late Wednesday, nearly three months after Apple replaced Google Maps with its own navigation tool but with disastrous results.

Apple's Maps software proved far interior to Google's and its shoddiness prompted an apology from Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Google shares were up nearly 2% while Apple shares were sliding over 1%.

Ciena (CIEN) posted a wider-than-expected fourth-quarter loss of 7 cents a share, a penny more than Wall Street expectations, as the network specialist and its competitors continue to be impacted by spending reductions and postponed purchases by telecom service providers.

Shares were up 0.19%.

Knight Capital Group (KCG) expects to make a decision on its future ownership by early next week, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Shares were down 0.31%.

Rival trading firms Getco and Virtu Financial, which both have submitted bids to buy the market-maker, are fine-tuning their takeover proposals for Knight, the Journal said. Final offers are expected to be handed to Knight 's board and investors by the end of this week, the people told the newspaper.

Homebuilder Hovnanian Enterprises (HOV) is seen posting a fiscal fourth-quarter loss of 6 cents a share on revenue of $462 million.

Shares were up 0.18%.

Adobe Systems (ADBE), the maker of Photoshop and other software for digital artists, is expected by analysts Thursday to post fourth-quarter earnings of 57 cents, down from 67 cents a share a year earlier.

-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.

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