MarketWatch.com - Pre-Market Indications

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Indications: U.S. stock futures rise as jobless claims dip

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By Kate Gibson and Simon Kennedy, MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) â€" U.S. stock futures added to strong gains Thursday after jobless claims unexpectedly fell to an almost three-year low, signaling an improving labor market.

The Labor Department reported that new applications for state unemployment benefits fell by 20,000 to 368,000 last week, its lowest level since May 2008. Read more about jobless claims.

Up 85 points before the report, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/21b!f:dj\h11 (DJH11 12,258, +212.00, +1.76%)  lately added 108 points to 12,154, and futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index /quotes/comstock/21m!f:sp\h11 (SPH11 1,330, +24.40, +1.87%)  gained 14.5 points to 1,320.3.

Nasdaq 100 futures /quotes/comstock/21m!f:nd\h11 (NDH11 2,375, +51.75, +2.23%)  climbed 23.75 points to 2,347.

Tunisia-Libya border crisis deepens

Thousands fleeing the violence in Libya flock to a makeshift refugee camp on the Tunisian border, where they appeal for their governments to evacuate them. Video courtesy of Reuters.

A separate report showed U.S. business productivity up 2.6% in the fourth quarter, unchanged from the government’s initial estimate.

Also Thursday, the European Central Bank said it would leave rates unchanged at 1% for now amid increased speculation that a hike could come later in the year.

In addressing inflation concerns after the rate announcement, ECB Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said that “strong vigilance” is warranted. Read more about ECB, Trichet.

On Wednesday, U.S. stocks edged higher as data signaling strength in the job market helped offset worries about rising oil prices, which ended the session above $102 a barrel. The Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/10w!i:dji/delayed (DJIA 12,269, +202.07, +1.67%)  posted a gain of 8.78 points, or slightly less than 0.1%.

Crude-oil futures edged down Thursday. Crude for April delivery fell $1.39 to $100.84 a barrel in Globex electronic trading.

Earlier, oil futures had registered a sharper drop following reports that Venezuela President Hugo Chavez was trying to broker a peace deal in Libya. But the decline was largely wiped out in the wake of reports that fresh air strikes had been launched against the Libyan town of Brega.

The recent gains for U.S. stock futures mirrored a strong performance for international markets, with the U.K.’s FTSE 100 index /quotes/comstock/23i!i:ukx (UK:UKX 6,005, +90.20, +1.52%)  up 1.2% in midday trading and Japan’s Nikkei 225 Average closing up 0.9%.

“This could be a small relief rally after the events of the last few days and what we’ve seen in the Middle East,” said Manoj Ladwa, senior trader at ETX Capital. However, he noted that the gains, at least in Europe, have been on very thin trading volumes.

The Institute for Supply Management’s nonmanufacturing index for February will be released at 10 a.m. Eastern. Economists polled by MarketWatch expect the index to remain unchanged from January at 59.4%.

Friday will bring another round of data, including the closely watched nonfarm-payrolls figures for February.

Stocks that could see active trading Thursday include News Corp. /quotes/comstock/15*!nws/quotes/nls/nws (NWS 18.49, +0.34, +1.87%)  after the U.K. government gave it the green light to buy the 61% of British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC /quotes/comstock/23s!a:bsy (UK:BSY 823.00, +24.00, +3.00%)  it doesn’t already own, on the condition that it spins off the satellite broadcaster’s news channel. Read more on News Corp.'s attempt to buy BSkyB.

News Corp. is the owner of MarketWatch, the publisher of this report.

In other deal news, H.J. Heinz Co. /quotes/comstock/13*!hnz/quotes/nls/hnz (HNZ 49.53, +0.55, +1.13%)  said it will acquire an 80% stake in Coniexpress S.A. Industrias Alimenticias, a Brazil-based maker of Quero tomato sauces. Heinz also reported a rise in fiscal third-quarter profit.

Low-price retailer Big Lots Inc. /quotes/comstock/13*!big/quotes/nls/big (BIG 41.11, +1.22, +3.06%)  reported a fourth-quarter profit of $1.46 a share, up from $1.27 a share in the year-earlier period and ahead of the $1.38 consensus forecast.

Zumiez Inc. /quotes/comstock/15*!zumz/quotes/nls/zumz (ZUMZ 27.60, +1.66, +6.40%) will also be in focus. The retailer said late Wednesday that its February same-store sales jumped 12.8%, comfortably outpacing the 4.2% consensus forecast. Read more about same-store sales.

Kate Gibson is a reporter for MarketWatch, based in New York. Simon Kennedy is the City correspondent for MarketWatch in London.

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