NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- U.S. stock futures held slight gains as investors weighted the results of recent Italian debt auctions and against American initial jobless claims that increased more than expected.

Futures for the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

were up 27 points, or 0.2%, at 12,108. Futures for the

S&P 500

were up 4.1 points, or 4.3 points above fair value, at 1,248.6 and futures for the

Nasdaq

were up 6.5 points, or 2.7 points above fair value, at 2,263.3.

The year-end rally has faded this week with the Dow shedding 1.1% and the S&P 500 slipping back into the red for the year by Wednesday's close.

The number of Americans filing for first time unemployment benefits rose more than expected in the first increase in four weeks. Initial jobless claims rose by 15,000 to 381,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ended Dec. 24 from a revised 366,000 in the previous week. Economists had expected to see claims rise to 375,000 from the originally reported 364,000 the prior week, according to Thomson Reuters.

Italy's borrowing costs fell Thursday in a bond auction that raised 7 billion euros instead of the 8.5 billion the country had planned. Italy sold bonds due in 2022 with yields of 6.98%, down from 7.56% the country paid a month ago. Bonds due in 2014 were also sold at 5.62% yields, compared with the previous 7.89%. This comes after a successful bond sale Wednesday in which the country raised 9 billion euros at half the interest rate of a previous auction.

Italian 10-year bond yields were last rising above 7%, indicating nervousness about Italian sovereign debt. The euro was weakening by 0.6% against the dollar, sending the currency to its lowest level against the dollar since

European stocks, however, were resilient. Germany's DAX was climbing 0.34% while London's FTSE was up 0.28%. Japan's Nikkei Average settled 0.29% lower and Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 0.65%.

Later at 9:45 a.m. will be a reading on Midwest manufacturing. Economists expect the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) to drop to 61.0 in December after 62.6 in the prior month.

At 10 a.m., the pending home sales index is expected to gain 2% in the month of November. Home buyers signed contracts to buy existing homes at a higher-than-expected pace in October, which saw pending home sales surge by 10.4% over the month.

"While good news on the economic front is certainly helpful heading into the new year, it may not provide traction necessary to combat the weak annual performance figures of equities in 2011 and the desire to close portfolios early ahead of this holiday weekend," Marc Pado, market strategist with Cantor Fitzgerald, wrote in a note. "Volume continues to trend at an excruciatingly anemic pace, which will leave the market vulnerable to any trading activity in these final few days."

On Thursday, the dollar index was up 0.3%. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury was increasing by 2/32, diluting the yield to 1.916%.

February oil futures were rising 37 cents to $99.73. Earlier this week oil topped $101 a barrel amid worries about supply disruptions from Iran's threat to stop oil flow from the Gulf. In other commodities, February gold futures were down $25.20 to $1538.90 an ounce.

In corporate news,

Exar

(EXAR)

lowered its financial outlook, citing the impact of weak economic conditions in Europe and Asia and continued inventory corrections. The Fremont, Calif.-based semiconductor company said it now sees revenue of $28 million to $30 million for its fiscal third quarter ending in December. The current average estimate of two analysts polled by

Thomson Reuters

is for breakeven results from Exar in the quarter on revenue of $33.1 million. The stock closed Wednesday at $6.67, down 4.4% for 2011.

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

is again being discussed as a potental acquisition target.

Reuters

reported

on Wednesday that China's

Alibaba Group

has hired U.S. lobbyist firm Duberstein Group in a sign that it could pursue a deal to acquire all of Yahoo! if efforts to buy back some of its assets fail. Yahoo! shares closed Wednesday at $15.78, down 2% for the session and around 5% for the year.

After Wednesday's closing bell,

Alexion Pharmaceuticals

(ALXN) - Get Report

said it agreed to acquire privately held Enobia Pharma for a total of $1.08 billion. Alexion is paying $610 million in cash upfront for Enobia, whose lead product candidate is a proposed treatment for hypophosphatasia, a rare metabolic disease. Shares of Alexion finished Wednesday at $70.92, down 63 cents.

Leggett & Platt

(LEG) - Get Report

said it expects to record a pre-tax charge of $36 million in its fiscal fourth quarter related to restructuring activities, including the closing of certain facilities. The Carthage, Mo.-based manufacturer said it expects the charge to reduce earnings by 16 cents a share. Excluding items, its previous forecast for a profit of $1.15 to $1.20 a share for fiscal 2011 remains intact. Including the charge, the company anticipates earnings of 99 cents to $1.04 a share for the full year. The current average estimate of analysts polled by

Thomson Reuters

, which typically doesn't include one-time charges or gains, is for a profit of $1.19 a share for fiscal 2011. Shares of Leggett & Platt closed Wednesday at $23.45, up more than 4% in 2011.

Mosaic

(MOS) - Get Report

said after Wednesday's closing bell that it plans to reduce its production of finished phosphate by up to 250,000 tons through the end of March. The stock closed Wednesday at $50.29, down more than 30% in 2011.

-- Written by Kaitlyn Kiernan in New York.

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

Kaitlyn Kiernan

To follow the writer on Twitter, go to

@Kaitlyn_Kiernan

.