Wall Street eyes mostly weak data

Nasdaq takes another run at 5,000
Nasdaq takes another run at 5,000   

U.S. stock index futures signaled a softer open on Thursday as investors digested mixed U.S. data that was mostly worse than expectations.

The core CPI, the key figure for the Fed that excludes more volatile food and energy prices, gained 0.2 percent. However, CPI data for January was down more than expected at 0.7 percent. Expectations were for a further sharp drop of 0.6 percent month on month, the biggest fall since 2008, driven by energy prices to leave the year-on-year rate in negative territory.

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Durable goods orders figures for January increased a more-than-expected 2.8 percent, after a 3.4 percent decline in the prior month.

Initial claims for unemployment for the week of Feb. 15, came in at 313,000. Analysts had expected the figure to increase moderately to 285,000 from 283,000 the week prior.

Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, said core figures in the data were positive. "All that considered as we head into the open."

He also said that "energy should be very interesting" as oil gained on Wednesday despite negative news.

Crude oil traded just below $50 a barrel and Brent held above $61 a barrel on Thursday.

Earlier, futures pointed to a higher open as investors welcomed comments from U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's speech to Congress, which hinted that the central bank was not in a rush to hike interest rates.

Concluding a two-day series of testimonies to various committees within U.S. Congress, Yellen said there would be no interest rate hike for "at least the next couple of FOMC meetings." She said an eye would be kept on the improving jobs picture and inflation.

Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The latest FHFA house price index is also released at 09.00 a.m. ET, along with the Kansas Fed Manufacturing Index.

Sears reported an adjusted quarterly loss of $1.37 per share, smaller than the $1.89 consensus estimates. Revenue was below consensus, and same-store sales at both Sears and Kmart fell. Sears also said it expects to complete its previously announced spinoff of 200 to 300 stores into a REIT by May or June, which should bring in more than $2 billion.

Kohl's posted quarterly profit of $1.83 per share, 3 cents above estimates, with revenue very slightly above forecasts. Kohl's also increased its dividend by 15 percent to 45 cents per share from the prior 39 cents.

The Victoria's Secret parent L Brands reported quarterly profit of $1.89 per share, 9 cents above estimates, while revenue was also above forecasts. However, its current quarter and full-year outlook is below analyst forecasts.

An expanded partnership agreement between Dunkin' Brands, JM Smucker, Keurig Green Mountain will mean Dunkin's K-Cup coffee packs will now be sold online and in stores. Previously, they had only been available in Dunkin' Donuts locations. Smucker will market those Keurig-made K-Cups to grocery chains and club stores, while Keurig will market to specialty stores and office supplies stores.

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Autodesk, Gap, Herbalife, JC Penney, Weight Watchers and Splunk are due to report after the bell.

European equities were broadly higher on Thursday as investors reacted to a raft of corporate earnings and fresh economic data.

U.S. stocks closed narrowly mixed on Wednesday, after struggling for direction amid firming oil prices and some debate over the tone of Yellen's congressional remarks.

The Nasdaq briefly traded positive on Wednesday and was within 20 points of touching the key 5,000 level last reached in March 2000 during the tech bubble.

CNBC's Peter Schacknow contributed to this report.