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Futures Hold Small Gains After Jobless Claims Data

U.S. stock index futures held small gains Thursday following the weekly jobless claims report and as President Barack Obama and members of Congress headed back to Washington to resume talks over the looming "fiscal cliff."

Obama cut short his Christmas vacation in Hawaii to deal with the deadlocked talks between Democrats and Republicans on what to do with $600 billion in tax increases and automatic spending cuts, due to kick in on Jan. 1. With less than a week remaining this year, time is now running out and the pressure on politicians to find a solution is building, as U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned the U.S. will hit the debt ceiling on Monday, Dec. 31.

The two sides could work towards a "mini-deal" to postpone the effects of the fiscal cliff by extending tax cuts for taxpayers with incomes below $250,000, postponing the automatic spending cuts, and extending unemployment benefits.

On the economic front, jobless claims fell 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000 last week. Economists in a Reuters survey expected a total of 360,000 new filings, compared with 361,000 filings in the previous week. Meanwhile, the four-week moving average tumbled to its lowest since March 2008.

Consumer confidence and November new home sales data are due at 10 am ET. Economists expect the December consumer confidence index to show a reading of 70 versus the 73.7 reported in November, while new home sales are expected to show a total of 378,000 annualized units.

Marvell Technology declined after a federal grand jury ruled the chipmaker infringed two patents held by Carnegie Mellon University and ordered the company to pay $1.17 billion in damages. In addition, at least two brokerages lowered their rating on the company.

Toyota Motor said it plans to settle a U.S. class-action lawsuit for $1.1 billion.

In Europe, stocks rose in cautious trading after being closed for Christmas and Boxing Day. Meanwhile, in Asia, Japanese stocks hit a 21-month high as a weaker yen boosted export stocks. Sentiment in Asia was boosted as profits at China's factories jumped in November, helped by the recovery in the economy.

—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)

Coming Up This Week:

THURSDAY: New home sales, consumer confidence, oil inventories, Kansas City Fed survey, Fed balance sheet, money supply
FRIDAY: Chicago PMI, pending home sales, natural gas inventories

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