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Stock futures hold gains; fewer Americans filed claims last week

U.S. stock-index futures maintained Thursday gains, with the S&P 500 in position to halt a three-session slide, its longest such streak in eight weeks, after economic data had fewer Americans than expected filing for jobless claims last week, while producer prices were as expected in October.

The government initial jobless claims last week fell to 323,000, versus expectations for 335,000. And the October Producer Price Index, or PPI, fell 0.2 percent. Excluding food and energy, it climbed 0.2 percent.

At 10 a.m., the Philadelphia Fed index, which measures changes in business growth, will be released.

On Wednesday, stocks fell after minutes published from the Federal Reserve's October meeting showed officials generally in agreement that believed economic conditions would pave the way for a reduction in asset purchases in months ahead.

Thursday's gains were kept in check amid disappointing results from retailers Target, Abercrombie & Fitch and Sears Holdings.

Shares in Europe and Asia had fallen after weak Chinese manufacturing data and ongoing fears of an imminent reduction in U.S. stimulus measures.

"The price action in equities, Treasurys and currencies suggests that there was a major shift or revelation by the Fed, but in reality the minutes contained very little surprises and did not say anything that we had not all already known," said Kathy Lien, managing director at BK Asset Management, in a note.

(Read more: Confused about Fed tapering? Don't be)

James Bullard will speak on Thursday, along with Richmond Fed's Jeffrey Lacker and Jerome Powell. Plus, the Senate Banking Committee has scheduled a vote on the nomination of Janet Yellen to be the next Fed chair, which is expected to go through and move to the full Senate for final approval.

HSBC's China flash purchasing manager's index for November fell to 50.4 from a seven-month high of 50.9 in October, sparking doubts about the sustainability of the country's economic recovery. Chinese benchmark shares fell off the previous day's one-month closing high following the news, before paring some losses.

In addition, worse-than-expected data for the euro zone suggested cracks were also appearing in its recovery. France in particular weighed on the index, where business activity unexpectedly shrunk.

In the bond markets, the Fed is due to purchase $4.25-$5.25 billion of 4-5-year Treasury notes, while the Treasury will sell 10-year TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities).

—By CNBC's Katy Barnato and Kate Gibson

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