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Futures Hold Gains After Jobless Claims Report

Thursday, 7 Mar 2013 | 9:13 AM ET

U.S. stock index futures held modest gains Thursday, with the Dow looking to log another all-time high, fueled by a better-than-expected weekly jobless claims report.

Jobless claims unexpectedly declined 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 340,000 last week, according to the Labor Department. Economists surveyed by Reuters expected a gain to 355,000. The four-week moving average also fell 7,000 to 348,750, hitting the lowest level since March 2008.

But planned layoffs climbed in February, up almost 37 percent from the prior month, as the financial sector cut the most employees in over a year, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The employment data come one day before the Labor Department reports non-farm payroll figures, with economists expecting a gain of 160,000.

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Also on the economic front, the U.S. trade deficit expanded almost 17 percent to $44.45 billion in January, from a revised $38.14 billion in the prior month, according to the Commerce Department.

Meanwhile, productivity slid at a 1.9 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, the fastest pace in nearly four years, according to the Labor Department. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a decline of 1.6 percent. Productivity increased at a 3.1 percent rate in the third quarter.

Stocks ended higher on Wednesday, with the Dow extending its gains to post a record high for the second-straight day.

European shares pared their early gains after the European Central Bank kept its interest rates unchanged at a record low of 0.75 percent, as expected. And the Bank of England kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 0.5 percent and held the size of its asset purchase program at 375 billion pounds.

"A gradual recovery should commence in the second part (of 2013)," said ECB President Mario Draghi at a news conference following the rate decision. "Inflation expectations for the euro area remain firmly anchored, in line with our aim of maintaining inflation rates below but close to 2 percent over the medium term. Overall, this will allow our monetary policy stance to remain accommodative."

The Nikkei came off a four-and-a-half year high but held onto most of its gains amid after the Bank of Japan opted to leave its monetary policy unchanged. Investors widely expected the move, and are looking ahead to April's meeting for bold stimulus under Haruhiko Kuroda's new leadership.

Among earnings, Smithfield Foods gained after the pork producer posted quarterly results that topped Wall Street expectations, thanks to higher sales of its packaged products.

H&R Block and Pandora are among notable companies slated to report earnings after the closing bell.

In stock news, Reuters reported that U.S. safety regulators are poised to allow Boeing to begin flight tests of the 787 Dreamliner, a critical step towards returning the grounded aircraft to service.

Also on the economic front, the Federal Reserve will release its consumer credit report for January at 3 pm ET. Economists polled by Reuters forecast a $14.3 billion gain, after a $14.6 billion increase in August.

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

Coming Up This Week:

THURSDAY: Quarterly services survey, natural gas inventories, consumer credit, Fed balance sheet/money supply, chain-store sales, Green Mountain shareholders mtg, weekly rail numbers; Earnings from H&R Block, Pandora
FRIDAY: McDonald's sales, non-farm payrolls, wholesale trade; Earnings from Ann, Foot Locker

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