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Stock futures add to gains after better-than-expected retail sales

U.S. stock-index futures added to gains on Thursday after economic reports had retail sales rising a bit more-than-expected in February and jobless claims dipping last week.

Retail sales rose 0.3 percent in February. Consensus forecasts had suggested retail sales would climb 0.2 percent last month, after a 0.4 percent decline in January.

The retail-sales data "was good, and a good indication that the economy is beginning to rebound from the winter chill," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital.

Weekly jobless claims fell to a three-month low, with initial claims for unemployment benefits dropping by 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 315,000, the Labor Department reported.

The claims report is "another indication that the labor market is healing and should expand. We should see creation of new jobs move above 200,000 to about 250,000 on a monthly basis," Cardillo said.

Later in the day there will be January's business inventories and the monthly Federal budget statement.

Concerns over China's economy and political turmoil in Ukraine continued to weigh on European and Asian markets on Thursday.

(Track: Europe markets live)

Official data for Chinese retail sales and industrial output came in below expectations on Thursday, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang warned at the National People's Congress that defaults in China's financial sector could prove unavoidable.

(Read more: More worrying data on China's economy)

Tensions in Ukraine continued, with a referendum on the sovereignty of the country's Crimea region still scheduled for the weekend. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday, as the administration looks for ways to head off the crisis.

Back in the U.S., the nomination hearing for Stanley Fischer, Lael Brainard and Jerome Powell for terms on the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors will be held on Thursday.

—By CNBC's Katy Barnato

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