Stock Futures Follow European Markets Lower

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stock futures were negative ahead of Thursday's open, mirroring losses in Europe.

Weekly initial jobless claims came in at 357,000, the lowest level in roughly four years, but still a bit higher than the consensus estimate of 355,000.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were softer by 60 points, or 64.8 points below fair value, at 12,945. Futures for the S&P 500 were behind by 7.2 points, or 8.2 points below fair value, at 1386. Futures for the Nasdaq were falling 7.3 points, or 12 points below fair value, at 2729.

U.S. stocks were stomped Wednesday, weighed down by diminished hopes for additional stimulus from the Federal Reserve and the prospect of more debt problems surfacing in Europe after a Spanish debt auction was met with weak demand.

Equity futures were taking a cue from the sliding European markets, where a sell-off in risk assets was taking place as yields on Spanish 10-year bonds rose another 12 basis points to 5.81%. The yields reached a pinnacle for the year and were racing past levels seen when the European Central Bank installed the first leg of its long-term refinancing program on Dec. 21 by more than 50 basis points.

The Labor Department has released data indicating that the number of Americans filing for new jobless benefits fell 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 357,000 in the week ended March 31, from a upwardly revised 363,000 in the previous week, falling short of the decline to 355,000 expected by economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Still, it was above the pivotal 350,000 level watched by traders. The four-week moving average for initial jobless claims decreased 4,250 to 361,750 and continuing claims for the week ended March 24 fell 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 3.34 million.

Global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said today that U.S. employers announced sharply fewer job cuts in March compared with the previous year. The firm reported that planned job reductions last month declined to their lowest since last May as U.S.-based employers announced layoffs tallying up to 37,880 or 27% below the 51,728 job cuts announced in February and 9% lower than that announced for March of last year, when 41,528 planned layoffs were recorded. It was also the lowest monthly layoff tally since 37,135 job cuts were announced last May.

The data sets arrived before the telling March jobs report from the Labor Department on Friday, when investors will be hoping for four straight months of 200,000-plus jobs growth.

London's FTSE was ticking down 0.7%. Germany's DAX was retreating 1.3%. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei Average fell 0.5% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed lower by almost 1%.

In corporate news, Nike ( NKE) scored a victory when a judge rejected Reebok's bid to overturn a ban on Reebok's sale of New York Jets' Tim Tebow jerseys.

Delta Airlines ( DAL) is considering a bid for ConocoPhillips' ( COP) idled 185,000 barrel per day refinery in Trainer, Penn., Reuters reported, citing a source familiar with the negotiations.

Costco ( COST), the warehouse retailer, said comparable-store sales in March rose 6%, while total sales gained 9.6% to $9.13 billion.

Bed Bath & Beyond ( BBBY), the specialty retailer, easily topped Wall Street's fourth-quarter earnings expectations.

Bed Bath & Beyond reported earnings of $351 million, or $1.48 a share, for the three months ended Feb. 25. Sales rose 9.1% to $2.73 billion. Same-store sales rose 6.8% in the quarter.

May oil futures were rising 30 cents to $101.77 a barrel, while June gold futures were rebounding by $8.20 to $1,622.30 an ounce.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was adding 13/32, pushing the yield down to 2.2%, while the U.S. dollar index was up 0.3% to $80.02.

-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

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