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Futures Head Higher; Markets Point To New Heights

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ U.S. stock futures rose Thursday with early economic figures pointing to a better employment landscape.

Dow Jones industrial futures rose 29 points to 14,294. The broader S&P futures added 2.5 points to 1,541.60. Nasdaq futures rose 5 points to 2,793.25.

The Labor Department said that the number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell by 7,000 last week, driving the four-week average to the lowest point in five years.

Markets appeared to take the weekly data, which can be volatile, as a prelude to the critical February jobs report that will be released Friday.

Economists believe the country added 152,000 jobs last month, and that the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent, from 7.9 percent.

Also on Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that the nation's trade deficit widened in January to $44.4 billion, an increase of 16.5 percent from December.

However, December saw exports soar to near-record highs, which drove down the trade deficit. The latest report shows U.S. exports falling 1.2 percent, reflecting declines in sales to Europe, China, Japan and Brazil.

At home, retailers are posting some mixed sales numbers for February.

Costco topped Wall Street expectations as comparable store sales rose 6 percent.

Pier 1 also topped Wall Street expectations, though it also released an earnings forecast that some considered conservative.

Comparable store sales at specialty retailers Zumiez and The Buckle fell.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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