Futures pointed to a higher open Thursday as investors shrugged off some dismal data points, choosing to focus on a drop in the headline jobless-claims number.
Initial jobless claimsfell for second straight weekto 610,000. However, continuing claims topped 6 million for the first time. And housing starts dropped 10.8 percent in March after a 17.2-percent rise in February.
Also in the housing sector foreclosure activity leapt 46 percent in March from a year earlier, hitting a record high as mortgage companies' moratoriums came to an end, RealtyTrac reported.
Still to come: The Philadelphia Fed Index of economic activity for April is expected out at 10 am New York time.
Atlanta Federal Reserve President Lockhart is due to speak in New York at 1 pm New York time, while San Francisco Fed President Yellen will also talk in the Big Apple at 7.30 pm.
On the earnings front, JPMorgan Chase posted earnings of 40 cents a share on revenue of $25.03 billion for the first three months of the year. That’s ahead of expectations from analyst polled by Thomson Reuters for 32 cents a share on revenue of $22.95 billion.
But JPMorgan's shares fell 2.3 percent in pre-market trade. The company set aside $10 billion against credit losses, more than twice the previous year.
Another factor tempering investor optimism about a recovery was news that General Growth Properties , the second-largest US mall owner, had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from its creditors, making it one of the biggest victims of the credit crisis yet.
Shares of GGP fell 47 percent in premarket trading.
Merger talks could resume between Sun Microsystems and International Business Machines after Sun said it would be interested in reopening negotiations. Talks recently fell apart after Sun rejected IBM's bid. Sun shares gained more than 7 percent premarket.
China reported that its economy slowed in the first quarter to its weakest pace since records began in 1992.
Technology stocks got a boost after telecom bellwether Nokia reported a positive outlook for the second half of 2009 after reporting weak first-quarter profit.
In other earnings, motorcycle giant Harley Davidson narrowly missed Wall Street expectations, but shares rose more than 6 percent after the company affirmed its full-year shipment plans.
Southwest Air posted a loss of 3 cents a share that also just missed estimates, as the company said it suffered from falling demand due to consumer weakness.
USA Today publisher Gannett also reports before the bell, While Google and Biogen Idec will report results after the close.
According to Reuters reports, American International Group is close to selling its US auto insurance business to Swiss insurer Zurich Financial Services for roughly $1.5 billion.
And General Motors told US dealers it was accelerating its timetable for closing dealershipsas it rushes to meet the government's restructuring deadline on June, Reuters said, citing sources.