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US stock futures modestly higher on earnings, jobless claims

U.S. stock-index futures signaled a mildly higher open on Thursday, with multiple big names reporting earnings before Wall Street opens.

Stock futures held mild gains after the government reported 304,000 Americans filed for jobless benefits last week, less than the 315,000 estimated by analysts.

The dollar fell against other currencies while the 10-year Treasury yield rose 3 basis points to 2.659 percent.

Crude-oil futures for May delivery held steady at $103.76 a barrel; gold futures for June delivery fell 80 cents to $1,302.70 an ounce.

Thursday is the final trading day of the week, as markets will be closed on Good Friday. Dow-listed companies slated to report first-quarter results early during the day include Goldman Sachs and United Health.

Goldman Sachs reported an 11 percent drop in first-quarter profit, but shares rose as the brokerage's results still surpassed estimates. United Health also reported a decline in first-quarter earnings, with its results too exceeding expectations. Chipotle Mexican Grill shares rallied after the burrito chain tallied first-quarter sales that beat expectations.

General Electric, Morgan Stanley and PepsiCo set the tone early with profit that beat expectations. GE narrowly beat the Street, as Morgan and Pepsi easily surpassed analysts projections. DuPont matched profit estimates, yet saw earnings plummet by more than half as it lost the one-time boost from the sale of its coating business.

The early earnings beats helped lighten the mood after two high-profile tech earnings curdled sentiment on Wednesday. IBM missed revenue expectations while Google missed on both earnings per share and sales.

Read MoreGoogle earnings miss Street, shares drop 6%

Economic data later Thursday includes the Philadelphia Federal Reserve index and weekly natural gas inventories.

Barclays Research forecast a modest fall in April's Philly Fed index to 8.0, from 9.0 in March.

"This would be consistent with a six-month moving average of 6.0 and suggest continued manufacturing activity growth in the region," James Lee and Marcus Gunn of Barclays Research said in a morning note.

U.S. stocks climbed for a third session on Wednesday, boosted by dovish comments from Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who reiterated that the central bank would continue to support the economic recovery.

However, shares in Europe and Asia were mixed early on Thursday, with activity subdued ahead of the Easter holiday, and Ukraine-Russia tension weighing on investor sentiment. A key meeting between the U.S., Ukraine, Russia and the European Union (EU) will take place in Switzerland on Thursday.

Read MoreTrack European markets live with CNBC

"Markets are likely to have a wary eye on today's talks in Geneva between officials of the EU, U.S., Ukraine and Russia, in an attempt to ratchet down the tensions that have slowly grown over the past few days," Michael Hewson, a chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said in a note.


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