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Futures Remain Lower After Economic News

Stock index futures remained lower after a slew of economic reports were released, including news that durable goods orders, excluding transportation, were up strongly, and jobless claims dropped by 3,000.

Initial claims for unemploymentdropped for the second time in three weeks, falling to a seasonally adjusted 420,000 in the week ended Dec. 18, the Labor Department reported.

The four-week average, rose slightly to 426,000. The average had fallen for six straight weeks to the lowest level in more than two years.

Durable goods orders, which includes aircraft and autos, fell 1.3 percent, the Commerce Department said. But when transportation is excluded, orders rose 2.4 percent, the biggest rise for the indicator since March.

As factories get new orders, they are more likely to hire new workers.

Also, personal spending rose 0.4 percent in November, a more moderate pace since the 0.7 percent increase seen in October, but a sign that consumers continue to spend. Personal income, meanwhile, rose 0.3 percent, thanks to rising stock portfolios.

The University of Michigan's final reading of December consumer sentiment, released at 9:55 a.m. is expected to come in at 74.8.

And November new home sales—forecast to rise to 300,000—are released at 10 a.m.

In corporate news, General Electric said it expects its deal with Comcast will close in January, instead of the end of December, as previously expected. GE is CNBC's parent company.

Bed, Bath & Beyond earnings jumped in pre-market trading after the home goods retailer reported forecast-beating quarterly profitlate after the bell on Wednesday.

In M&A news, private-equity firm Leonard Green & Partners agreed to buy Jo-Ann Stores for about $1.6 billion or $61 a share in cash. The offer prices is a 34 percent premium to the fabrics and crafts retailer's closing price on Wednesday.

Rio Tinto is buying Riversdale, an Australian coal company, for $3.9 billion. Riversdale has coking coal assets in Africa.

Investors will also keep a close eye on energy stocks as oil prices continue to climbtowards a two-year high boosted by cold weather.

Simmering geopolitical concerns could dampen optimism after South Korea's president said on Thursday the military should launch a "merciless counterattack" if the North tries to repeat the kind of surprise aggression on the South it launched in November.

European shares hit a 27-month high for a fourth straight session on Thursday, but the euro continued to hover near an all-time low against the Swiss Franc as concerns over the sovereign debt crisis in the region persisted.

On the Calendar This Week:

THURSDAY: consumer sentiment, new home sales
FRIDAY: Markets closed for Christmas

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