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Futures Up After Jobless Claims; GM Awaited

U.S. stock index futures rallied ahead of the open Thursday as General Motors shares looked set to jump on their return to the New York stock market, and jobless claims came in as expected.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits rose 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 439,000 last week, the Labor Department said. Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected claims to rise to 440,000. The previous week's figure was revised higher to 437,000 from 435,000.

The four-week average of new jobless claims fell 4,000 to 443,000, the lowest level since the week ending Sept. 6, 2008.

The automaker priced its stock offering at $33 per share, but traders expect the shares to rise above the opening price. The listing could net GM $23 billion and will reduce the government's stake in the company to below 40 percent from 60 percent.

Demand from big North American mutual and pension fund investors was strong, according to sources quoted by Reuters.

The market also had a more upbeat tone after news that Ireland's central bank chief said he expected the country to receive a "very substantial" bailout amounting to tens of billions of euros.

The news helped to boost European shares. Asian indexes closed higher with the Nikkei 225 ending at a 5-month high.

Also on the economic front, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve survey and leading indicators are both released at 10 a.m.

Earnings releases were mixed Thursday morning. Staples posted a third-quarter boost in profit thanks to cost cuts, while Sears shares plunged in pre-market trading after reporting its third-quarter loss widened.

After-the-bell earnings include: Dollar Tree ; Gap , Dell and Marvell .

On Tap This Week:

THURSDAY: Leading indicators, Philadelphia Fed survey, Cisco shareholder meeting; Earnings from Gamestop, Staples, Dell and Gap.
FRIDAY: Bernanke speaks at ECB Central Banking Conference, Harry Potter movie premieres; Earnings from Heinz.

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