Stocks Futures Gain on Greek Hopes, Jobs Data

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stock futures were pointing to a stronger open Thursday as the market grew more confident that Greece would complete a crucial debt restructuring deal and avoid a chaotic default.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were jumping 59 points, or 72.6 points above fair value, at 12,900. Futures for the S&P 500 were up 8.7 points, or 9.5 points above fair value, at 1361, and futures for the Nasdaq were gaining 15.7 points, or 16.6 points above fair value, at 2624.

Stocks finished higher Wednesday following Tuesday's worst plunge of the year on the back of better-than-expected jobs data, news that the Federal Reserve may yet aid the economy and progress on Greece's debt restructuring.

In the U.S., the Labor Department reported that the number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits rose by 8,000 to 362,000 last week from a revised 354,000 the preceding week. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected weekly initial jobless claims for the week ended March 3 to fall to 350,000 from an originally reported 351,000. The four-week moving average was 355,000, an increase of 250 from the previous week's revised average of 354,750.

" There was a small uptick in claims, but the four-week moving average is still basically at the lowest levels since March 2008 so it's hardly a threat to the notion of improving labor conditions," says David Ader, a strategist at CRT Capital Group.

As a Thursday evening deadline for Greece to secure a debt swap agreement from at least 75% of its bondholders looms, roughly 60% have already signed up. Major banks and pension funds have been signing up for the debt swap at a good pace ahead of the 3 p.m. EST deadline, bringing Greece closer to an end to its debt drama. Some market chatter even suggests that over 75% of bondholders have already accepted the offer. The €206 billion debt restructuring deal, of course, is a crucial part of the country's ability to receive a €130 billion rescue package.

Growing confidence about Greece was assuaging eurozone debt contagion fears and spreading cheer throughout eurozone bond markets. Italian government bond yields have been dropping to their lowest levels since the middle of last year. Spanish yields have been pulling back sharply.

London's FTSE was rising 1.3%, and Germany's DAX was gaining 2.1%. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei Average finished stronger Thursday by 2.01% as Japan's economy was reported to have contracted a revised 0.2%, which was less than the prior fourth-quarter estimate. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed up 1.32%.

In corporate news, McDonald's ( MCD) shares were surrendering 3.3% to $96.90 after the fast-food chain reported a rise in February global sales at restaurants open at least 13 months of 7.5%, missing estimates. This, as European customers reduced their spending. An increase of 7.7% was expected by analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

The company plans to debut its "Extra Value Menu" on March 26, which is aimed at increasing sales in an environment where consumers remain cash strapped. The items on the menu will be mainly prices between $1 and $2. Shares were up 0.03% to $100.21 in premarket trading.

Apple ( AAPL) and five of the biggest U.S. publishers have been warned by the Justice Department it plans to sue them for allegedly colluding to raise the price of electronic books, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Several of the parties have held talks to settle the antitrust case and head off a court battle. A successful settlement could potentially lead to cheaper e-books for consumers.

The five publishers facing a potential suit are CBS' ( CBS) Simon & Schuster; Lagardere's Hachette Book Group; Pearson's ( PSO) Penguin Group (USA); Macmillan, a unit of Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH; and HarperCollins Publishers, a unit of News Corp. ( NWSA).

Apple unveiled a new version of its iPad tablet on Wednesday.

The U.S. Treasury is selling $6 billion worth of its bailout-related holdings in insurance giant American International Group ( AIG).

AIG is expected to purchase up to $3 billion worth of the stock being sold by the Treasury, which will still hold nearly $42 billion sunk into the company following its 2008 bailout.

CalSTRS, the California teachers pension fund, plans to vote against Kinder Morgan's ( KMI) $23 billion acquisition of El Paso ( EP).

"We have concerns with the lack of transparency and the apparent conflicts of interest that have surrounded the share appraisal process and we believe that shareholders may not receive full value for their shares should this transaction, as currently structured, be consummated," said a CalSTRS spokesman.

The Men's Wearhouse ( MW) saw its fourth quarter losses narrow as the retail clothing store was able to increase selling prices in the U.S. and its gross margins. Sales grew 3.7% to $562.2 million, short of the $563.17 expected. Losses came in at 7 cents a share, less than 27 cents a share in the period a year earlier. Analysts had expected a loss of 13 cents a share, excluding special items. For the fiscal year, the company gave guidance of $2.70 to $2.78 a share in earnings, compared to the 62 cents a share projected by analysts. Shares were falling 0.2% to $40.12 before the open.

April oil futures were rising 41 cents to $106.57 a barrel, while April gold futures were gaining $12.50 to $1,696.40 an ounce on the possibility of further Federal Reserve quantitative easing.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was down 5/32, lifting the yield to 1.996%, while the U.S. dollar index was behind by 0.4% at $79.39.

-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

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