NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stock index futures posted small gains Thursday, pointing to a slightly higher open for Wall Street on the final day of the year and leaving top indexes on track to register their largest yearly percentage jumps since 2003.
Futures briefly added to gains after the government reported a bigger-than-expected drop in U.S. jobless claims, which fell 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 432,000 in the week ended Dec. 26. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected initial claims to come in at 455,000.
S&P 500 futures gained 1.8 points to 1,123.90, while Nasdaq 100 futures rose 2.25 points to 1,879.0. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 10 points to 10,500.
Trading volume was expected to remain light. Markets will be closed Friday for the New Year's Day holiday.
Among potential movers, American Tower Corp. /quotes/comstock/13*!amt/quotes/nls/amt (AMT 43.21, 0.00, 0.00%) , an operator of wireless communications sites, is in talks to acquire a controlling stake in India's Essar Telecom Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd., The Wall Street Journal reported, in a deal valued at around 20 billion rupees ($429.1 million).
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U.S. stocks tallied small gains on Wednesday, boosted by reports showing a pickup in business and manufacturing activity in the Midwest.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/10w!i:dji/delayed (INDU 10,428, -120.46, -1.14%) rose 3.10 points to 10,548.51, marking the seventh session of gains out of the last eight and putting the blue-chip barometer at its highest close in nearly 15 months. The Nasdaq Composite index /quotes/comstock/10y!i:comp (COMP 2,269, -22.13, -0.97%) gained 2.88 points to 2,291.28, its highest close since September 2008.
The S&P 500 /quotes/comstock/21z!i1:in\x (SPX 1,115, -11.32, -1.00%) eked out a 0.22-point gain to 1,126.42 on Wednesday.
For the year so far, the Dow industrials have gained 1,772.12 points, or 20.2%. That's the biggest yearly point and percentage gains since 2003.
American Express Co. /quotes/comstock/13*!axp/quotes/nls/axp (AXP 40.50, -0.02, -0.05%) is on track to be the Dow's top performer for the year with a gain of $22.25, or 120%. It's followed by Microsoft /quotes/comstock/15*!msft/quotes/nls/msft (MSFT 30.49, +0.01, +0.03%) with a gain of $11.52, or 59.3%, for the year so far.
Oil giant Exxon Mobil /quotes/comstock/13*!xom/quotes/nls/xom (XOM 68.11, -0.08, -0.12%) appears set to bring up the rear for the Dow industrials, posting a loss for the year so far of $11.06, or 13.9%.
The Nasdaq is up 714.25 points, or 45.3%, this year, its largest percentage gain since 2003 and its second-biggest yearly point gain in history. The S&P 500 is up 223.17 points, or 24.7%, for the biggest point and percentage gains since 2003.
European shares were mostly flat on Thursday. London's FTSE 100 stock index was up 0.3%, while France's CAC-40 index rose fractionally.
The pan-European Dow Jones Stoxx 600 index wasn't calculated Thursday as some markets, including Germany and Italy, were closed and others were set to have shortened trading sessions. However, 2009 was the index's strongest year since 1999 as it posted a 27.6% rise following 2008's sharp drop. See story on Europe Markets.
The U.S. dollar was under pressure against most major rivals as traders appeared to take profits on the greenback's December rebound. The dollar index /quotes/comstock/11j!i:dxy0 (DXY 77.86, -0.05, -0.07%) , a measure of the currency against a trade-weighted basket of major rivals, was off 0.3% at 77.687, leaving it on track for a monthly gain of 3.7% but a yearly fall of 4.4%. Read Currencies.
The euro rose 0.3% to trade at $1.4381. The dollar slipped 0.1% to trade at 92.71 Japanese yen.
Nymex oil futures gave up early gains to trade 5 cents lower at $79.31 a barrel.
William L. Watts is a reporter for MarketWatch in London. Nick Godt is MarketWatch's markets editor, based in New York.