Stock Futures Hold Gains After Jobs Data, ECB

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stock futures were rising Thursday after the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke its record-high closing for a second-straight day Wednesday, jobless claims numbers came in better than expected, and as the European Central Bank president maintained a dovish tone.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were rising 36 points, or 18.76 points above fair value, at 14,301. Futures for the S&P 500 were up 4.5 points, or 2.99 points above fair value, at 1543.5. Futures for the Nasdaq were up 8.5 points, or 4.39 points above fair value, at 2796.75.

The European Central Bank stood pat on its benchmark interest rate of 0.75%, as expected, even as inflation fell and economic growth prospects soured amid fresh eurozone worries.

Still, during a press conference following the meeting, ECB President Mario Draghi maintained a dovish tone, indicating expectations of a continued accommodative policy stance.

The Bank of England left its asset purchase facility and key rate unchanged at a record low of 0.5%, also as expected.

A raft of U.S. economic data was released Thursday, ahead of Friday's widely-watched nonfarm payrolls report for February.

The Labor Department said that initial jobless claims in the week ended March 2 were 340,000, a decrease of 7,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 347,000. The four-week moving average was 348,750, a decrease of 7,000 from the prior week's 355,750. Economists were expecting claims to rise to 355,000.

Continuing claims in the week ended Feb. 23 came in at 3.094 million, an increase of 3,000 from the preceding week's upwardly revised level of 3.091 million. Economists were expecting continuing claims of 3.11 million.

The latest Challenger Gray & Christmas report said that planned job cuts increased for the second consecutive month in February as U.S.-based employers announced work force reductions totaling 55,356, up 37% from 40,430 in January.

The Census Bureau reported that the U.S. trade deficit widened to $44.4 billion in January from a downwardly revised $38.1 billion. Expectations were for a widening to $43 billion.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that nonfarm labor productivity fell 1.9% in the fourth quarter, versus the prior estimate of a decline of 2%. Predictions were for a 1.6% fall.

Unit labor costs rose 4.6% in the quarter, compared with the prior estimate of a 4.5% increase and expectations of a 4.2% rise.

The Federal Reserve is predicted to say that consumer credit rose by $12.8 billion in January after increasing by $14.6 billion in December. The Fed report is due at 3 p.m.

Gold for April delivery was rising $5.40 to $1,580.30 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while April crude oil futures were up 25 cents to $90.68 a barrel.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was rising by 3/32, diluting the yield to 1.941%. The dollar was down 0.11%, according to the U.S. dollar index .

The FTSE 100 in London was advancing by 0.44% and the DAX in Germany was up 0.32%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed down 0.03%, while the Nikkei Average in Japan finished up 0.3%.

In corporate news, Time Warner ( TWX) plans to spin off Time Inc., the magazine unit that publishes Time, Sports Illustrated and People, into a separate company.

Carl Icahn reportedly has acquired a stake of about 100 million shares in Dell ( DELL), giving the activist investor a roughly 6% ownership in the PC maker. Dell shares were up half a percentage point.

Johnson Controls ( JCI) said Wednesday it's exploring a sale of its automotive electronics business. But the company denied a Reuters report that it was looking to sell its auto interiors unit, saying it has no "current intention" to do so.

Networking specialist Ciena ( CIEN) posted fiscal first-quarter earnings of 12 cents a share on revenue of $453.1 million, surpassing forecasts of a first-quarter loss of 13 cents a share on revenue of $448.3 million, as the company explained that market trends are becoming increasingly aligned with its strengths and strategy. Shares were popping 12.5%.

Ciena expects fiscal second-quarter revenue in the range of $465 million to $495 million, versus current expectations of $482.1 million.

Costco Wholesale ( COST), the warehouse retailer, said Thursday that same-store sales in February rose 6%, higher than analysts' expectations.

Apache ( APA) is considering the sale of its deep-water assets in the Gulf of Mexico, Bloomberg reported.

Smithfield Foods ( SFD), the pork producer, booked fiscal third-quarter earnings of 58 cents a share on revenue of $3.6 billion, beating the Wall Street consensus estimate of 50 cents a share on revenue of $3.53 billion, after getting a boost from stronger packaged-meat sales. Smithfield predicted packaged meat volume growth of at least 2% to 3% in fiscal 2013 and for this trend to continue into fiscal 2014.

-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

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