5 Things You Need to Know Before the Stock Market Opens

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stock futures were pointing flat to higher early Thursday ahead of the jobless claims report from the Labor Department.

Economists surveyed by Reuters forecast 351,000 new filings for jobless benefits, level with the week earlier.

The report will be issued at 8:30 a.m. EST.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks to Congress on Thursday, but this time to the Senate Banking Committee.

On Wednesday, the Fed chief told the House of Representatives that while a recovery in the U.S. economy continues, "the pace of expansion has been uneven and modest by historical standards."

Carmakers Ford ( F) and General Motors ( GM) report February sales Thursday.

Light-vehicle sales in February may have run at a 14.2 million seasonally adjusted annual rate, according to analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. That pace would match January's and be the first time the U.S. posted a 14 million rate in consecutive months since May 2008, Bloomberg said.

Kroger ( KR), the grocery retailer, is expected by analysts to post quarterly profit of 49 cents a share. It earned 46 cents a share a year earlier.

Bank of America ( BAC) plans to introduce a monthly fee for customers with basic checking accounts unless they agree to bank online, buy more products or maintain certain balances, according to The Wall Street Journal .

Bank of America pilot programs in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts now are experimenting with charging $6 to $9 a month for an "Essentials" account, the newspaper said, which cited a memo distributed to employees.

Last fall, the bank pulled back from introducing a new $5 debit-card charge after customers criticized the move.

-- Written by Joseph Woelfel

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