Stock Futures Rise as Jobless Claims Dip

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stock futures were rising Thursday as weekly initial jobless claims dipped slightly from the prior week, and the European Central Bank left rates unchanged.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 3 points, or 0.02%, at 13,931. Futures for the S&P 500 were adding 2 points, or 0.10%, to 1508. Nasdaq futures were tacking on 9 points, or 0.32% with a fair value of 2746.

The Labor Department said initial jobless claims for the week of Jan. 26 printed at 366,000, down 5,000 from the prior week's claims. The four-week moving average was 350,000, down 2,250 from the previous tally. Economists expected claims to print at about 360,000.

Investors have continued to monitor initial jobless claims and other labor market indicators as the Federal Reserve has closely pegged its policy of low interest rates to a target 6.5% unemployment rate. Anything that hits that threshold, the central bank has said, would trigger the Fed to begin raising interest rates. It has also said it would make such a move if inflation rose to at least 2.5%.

Chicago Fed Reserve President Charles Evans spoke Thursday morning in an interview with CNBC and said that quantitative easing may need to continue for the whole year. Evans said he was optimistic that economic momentum would pick up in 2013. Evans has been one of the biggest policy-making supporters for the Fed's unemployment rate target. His comments could also send waves through markets as traders continue to determine whether the Fed will stick with its highly accommodative monetary policy for the long term.

Stocks closed mixed on Wednesday following a huge rally on the Nikkei in Japan as concerns over political strife in Spain and Italy weighed on investors' outlook for economic stability in the eurozone.

The Labor Department reported nonfarm business productivity dipped 1.3% in the fourth quarter of 2012. The number was higher than the 1.3% decrease a consensus among economists had expected. The report comes a week after a surprise 0.1% contraction in gross domestic product that was reported last Wednesday.

The FTSE 100 in London was shedding 0.36%, but the DAX in Germany was climbing 0.58% ahead of the ECB's policy announcement.

ECB President Mario Draghi kept interest rates unchanged at near-zero historic lows. Investors initially appeared calmed by Draghi's words as Spain and Italy worries re-emerge. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is looking to reclaim his post as the country's leader, which could frighten markets that are concerned what his re-emergence would mean for Italy's relationship with the ECB.

Spain also found itself in a precarious position as the opposition Socialist Party earlier this week called on its prime minister to step down on corruption allegations.

Gold futures for April delivery were looking to open lower by 90 cents to $1,677.90 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while futures for March crude oil contracts were looking higher by 26 cents to $96.88 a barrel.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was falling 2/32, boosting the yield to 1.970%. The dollar was rising 0.24%, according to the U.S. dollar index .

In corporate news, Boeing ( BA) said it would propose battery design changes to minimize fire hazards for its grounded 787 Dreamliner, according to a Wall Street Journal article. The company said it hopes its embattled plane would begin to fly as soon as March. Boeing shares added 0.08% in premarket trading.

Visa ( V) reported first-quarter net income of $1.3 billion on revenue of $2.85 billion. The credit card company said all of its transactions totaled $14.2 billion, which was a 4% increase from last year. Shares slipped 1.3% in after hours trades on Wednesday.

Credit Suisse ( CS) reported a profit of 397 million Swiss francs ($435 million) in the fourth quarter of 2012, which was up from a year-earlier loss of 637 million francs. Shares were rising 1% in the premarket session.

Yelp ( YELP) posted a fourth-quarter loss of 8 cents a share on revenue of $41.2 million, but missed analysts expectations of a loss of 5 cents a share on $40.29 million in revenue. Shares fell 2.8% in the after hours session on Wednesday.

Electronics giant Sony ( SNE) filed a loss for the October-December quarter of 10.7 billion yen ($115 million), which narrowed from the year-prior's loss of 158 billion yen. Depository receipts dropped 3% in premarket action.

Alcatel-Lucent ( ALU) announced CEO Ben Verwaayen would be departing from his head position as of the French-U.S. telecommunications gear maker. Shares were rising more than 4% in premarket trades.

Media giant News Corp ( NWSA) reported earnings for its fiscal second quarter of 44 cents a share on revenue of $9.43 billion. Wall Street expected a profit of 42 cents a share on revenue of $9.28 billion. Shares closed higher by 1.5% on Tuesday, and slumped 4.3% in after hours.

Sprint ( S) shares were down 0.87% in premarket trades after the company reported a loss of 44 cents a share on revenue of $9.01 billion. Analysts were expecting 46 cents a share on $8.92 billion in revenue.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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