Futures Flat After Initial Jobless Claims

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stock futures were pointing to a flat open Thursday, a day after posting strong gains on the back of improving data both at home and abroad, and were little changed after the government said new applications for unemployment benefits slid a bit lower last week.

Traders are also awaiting factory orders and home sales figures Thursday.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 5 points at 10,277 and were 16.53 points above fair value. Futures for the S&P 500 were adding 1.7 points at 1083.4 and were 4.06 points above fair value, and Nasdaq futures were gaining 3 points and were 5.3 points above fair value.

After closing the books on their worst August since 2001, stocks kicked off September in fine style Wednesday. The Dow finished 255 points higher on upbeat economic data out of China and Australia, coupled with a surprisingly strong manufacturing report in the U.S.

While Wall Street is preparing for Friday's monthly jobs report from the government, Thursday offered investors another read on the number of new applications for unemployment benefits, which have tracked higher in recent weeks. The Labor Department said new claims edged just lower by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 472,000 for the week ended Aug. 28. They were expected to rise by 2,000 from the prior week's pre-revised total at 473,000. The number of those continuing on jobless benefit rolls also came in a hair lower to 4.456 million from 4.479 million.

At the same time, the department also unveiled a revised look at worker productivity in the second quarter. Though, as originally reported, productivity declined at a 0.9% annual rate, the drop widened to a 1.8% slide in the revised assessment. Unit labor costs are also jumped 1.1%, as expected.

A better-than-expected manufacturing readout helped fuel the market rally Wednesday. Market observers will turn their attention again to the sector Thursday as the Commerce Department's July factory order data is scheduled for release at 10 a.m. EDT. After falling back by 1.2% in June, orders are projected to see a modest uptick of 0.3% in July.

An assessment of pending-home sales in July, cobbled together by the National Association of Realtors and set for release at 10 a.m., also is expected to hold flat. The group's index tumbled 2.6% in June.

Elsewhere, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will be appearing before a panel looking into the events leading to the financial meltdown.

Various retailers are releasing comparable same-store sales data throughout the morning, giving Wall Street a sense of the back-to-school season. Already, Costco ( COST) said comparable-store sales rose 7% in August, while sales for teen retailer Hot Topic ( HOTT) and Buckle ( BKE) dropped by 3.7% and 3.5%, respectively, during the period.

Target ( TGT) sales were up 1%, while Macy's ( M) advanced 4.3%.

In developing deal news, a breaking headline from CNBC said Burger King ( BKC) was to be acquired by 3G Capital for $4 billion, or $24 a share. Talk of the potential deal began circulating Wednesday.

According to a report, General Motors is thought to be pricing its much-anticipated initial public offering on Nov. 17. According to Reuters, the auto manufacturer is planning to kick off its road show after the November mid-term elections.

The Energy Information Administration will also come out with its latest read on natural gas storage figures at 10:30 a.m. ET. A survey from Platts showed that analysts expect stocks to rise by 53 billion to 57 billion cubic feet for the week ending Aug. 27.

The October natural gas contract was edging lower by a penny at $3.75 per million British thermal units ahead of the report. Also in commodity markets, crude oil for October delivery was losing 21 cents to trade at $73.70 a barrel, and the December gold contract was trading higher by 90 cents at $1,249 an ounce.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury note was down 2/32, boosting the yield to 2.587%.

Meanwhile, the dollar was trading lower against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index down by 0.1%.

Overseas, the European Central Bank said it was keeping its target lending rate unchanged at 1%, which marks the 16th straight months that rates have been held steady at the record low. Asian stocks moved ahead Thursday thanks to the improving U.S. manufacturing picture, though European averages were trading lower. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.2% higher, while Japan's Nikkei gained 1.5%. The FTSE in London was behind by 0.1% and the DAX in Frankfurt was shedding 0.2%.

--Written by Sung Moss in New York.