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US stock-index futures hold modest gains after claims, productivity data

U.S. stock-index futures pointed to a higher open on Wall Street on Thursday, as investors considered economic data ahead of Friday's non-farm payrolls jobs report.

The government on Thursday reported initial jobless claims at 323,000 versus a 335,000 estimate; fourth-quarter productivity rose 1.8 percent, compared to a 1.9 percent estimate.

Costco Wholesale fell in early New York trading after the warehouse-club operator reported a 15 percent drop in quarterly profit, missing analysts' estimates.

The government's jobs report for February will be published on Friday. The Federal Reserve has highlighted unemployment as key in deciding how-and-when ultra-loose monetary policy will be scaled back, so the report will be scrutinized for hints as to future central-bank action.

(See: With US data in the freezer, traders look overseas)

Ahead of Thursday's open, Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported its count of U.S. companies planning to cut staff falling in February, with the bulk of layoffs seen in the financial sector.

(Read more: Planned layoffs in U.S. down 7.3 percent: Challenger)

In the meantime, investors will listen out for speeches on Thursday from Fed officials William Dudley, Charles Plosser and Dennis Lockhart.

Plosser was interviewed on CNBC in London on Thursday. He said he was "very worried" about the risk of side effects from the Fed's massive bond purchases, and warned U.S. economic growth might never return to pre-crisis levels.

Investors will also continue to eye events in Ukraine, after Russia's bloodless invasion of Ukrainian peninsula Crimea over the weekend. European heads of states are set to meet on Thursday to discuss developments in the country.

(Read more: Crimea votes to join Russia, EU leaders push Ukraine diplomacy)

Ukrainian boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko told CNBC that Russian President Vladimir Putin was frightened of how events were unfolding in Ukraine.

"He is scared of what is happening because the [Ukrainian] people don't want to…live with this corruption, live without human rights and that is why the people want the changes," said Klitschko, who is a potential presidential candidate in Ukraine.

(Read more: Ukraine's Klitschko: Putin is scared of what's happening)

Interim Finance Minister Oleksander Shlapak attempted to reassure panicked international investors, saying that Ukraine would not default on its loans

"I think Ukraine will pay all of its debts with the help of the IMF (International Monetary Fund)," he said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, U.S. stocks were near unchanged, with the S&P 500 closing just shy of its record, as investors tracked developments in Ukraine and disregarded U.S. economic reports as impacted by the weather.

—By CNBC's Katy Barnato

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