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Stock Futures Rise on Bernanke's Reassurances

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stock futures were gaining ground Thursday, pointing to a higher open after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke managed to calm fears about a dramatic slowdown in central bank accommodation. Investors are also reacting to Japan's central bank becoming more bullish about its economy and hopes of stimulus from China's central bank. Economic releases before the market open indicated a rise in unemployment claims as well as a drop in import prices.

Futures for the S&P 500 were adding 16 points, or 17.63 points above fair value, to 1,664.5. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were rising 123 points, or 145.34 points above fair value, to 15,366. Futures for the Nasdaq were increasing 27.5 points, or 29.39 points above fair value, to 3,023.75.

Warehouse retailer Costco (COST - Get Report) was gaining 1.52% to $115.38 after booking same-store sales growth of 6% for June and exceeding the average analyst estimate of a rise of 5.4%.

Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) was tacking on 1.21% to $35.12. According to AllThingsD, the software giant may unveil big restructuring changes Thursday to sharpen the company's focus on services and devices in its consumer and business sectors.

Yum! Brands (YUM - Get Report), the owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell reported Wednesday evening fiscal second-quarter adjusted earnings that beat estimates by 2 cents at 56 cents a share as revenue declined to $2.9 billion, which was below the average analyst estimate of $2.93 billion. Same-stores sales in key market China tumbled 20% driven by food safety concerns following a bird flu outbreak and allegations of chicken growth hormone injections by its suppliers. The company expects same-store sales at its China Division to continue to recover over the course of the year and be positive by the fourth quarter. Shares were rising more than 1% to $73.36 in premarket trading.

Drug store operator Walgreen ( WAG ) has hiked its quarterly dividend by 14.5% to 31.5 cents a share. The dividend is payable Sept. 12 to shareholders of record on Aug. 20.

Major U.S. stock markets closed mixed on Wednesday after minutes from the Federal Reserve's June meeting indicated that several policymakers were warming to the plan of reducing the central bank's asset purchase program.

However, the minutes were followed after the closing bell by a speech by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke who reassured markets that accommodative monetary policy would remain in place for some time regardless of any substantial drop in the unemployment rate. Bernanke emphasized there were no firm plans yet for any imminent hike in interest rates.

"There will not be an automatic increase in interest rate when unemployment hits 6.5%," Bernanke told economists after a speech in Boston.

He also said that with the low inflation environment and the job market still in need of more improvement, it will likely be "well sometime after we hit 6.5% before rates reach any significant level."

Economic releases Thursday helped lend support to Bernanke's thoughts, with jobless claims spiking and import prices logging a decline.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims rose in the week ended July 6 by 16,000 to a greater-than-expected 360,000 though driven in part seasonal factors, from an upwardly-revised 344,000 the prior week. Economists on average were expecting claims of 340,000.

Continuing claims in the week ended June 29 was a higher-than-expected 2.977 million, an increase of 24,000 from the preceding week's upwardly-revised level of 2.953 million. Economists were expecting a read of 2.95 million.

Meanwhile the Bureau of Labor Statistics said that import prices in June fell by a more than expected 0.2% adding to evidence that inflationary conditions remain in check. A flat reading was expected.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was jumping 10/32, diluting the yield to 2.592%.The dollar was shedding 1.07% to $83.14 according to the U.S. dollar index.

The Hong Kong Hang Seng index finished higher by 2.55% and the Nikkei 225 in Japan closed up by 0.39%. Global markets advanced after Bernanke's comments even though China, the world's second largest economy, reported disappointing trade data once again, as it spurred speculation that this would encourage the country's central bank to loosen its monetary policy in order to bolster economic growth. Meanwhile, the Bank of Japan has maintained its aggressive monetary policy while upgrading its outlook on the country's economic recovery.

The FTSE 100 in London was rising 0.41% while the DAX in Germany was edging up 1.04%.

August gold futures were surging $34.90 to $1,282.30 an ounce. August crude oil futures were slipping 50 cents to $106.02 a barrel.

Written by Andrea Tse in New York

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

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