Futures slightly added to gains after news that jobless claims dropped more than expected gave investors some confidence in the economy's health.
Initial claims for unemployment fell by 29,000 to 409,000 in week ended May 14 from an upwardly revised 438,000 claims the week before, the Labor Department said. Economists surveyed by Reuters expected claims to fall to 420,000 from the previously reported 434,000.
The four-week moving average of claims, however, reached a six-month, rising 1,250 to 439,000. Continuing claims fell to 3.71 million in the week ended May 7 from 3.79 million.
More news on the economy will be released later this morning. The National Association of Realtors reports existing home sales data for April at 10 a.m. Economists expect sales to rise to 5.4 million units from 5.1 million the month before.
Also, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Survey of manufacturing activity in the Mid-Atlantic region and the index of leading indicators will be released by 10 a.m.
Intel fell after news that Goldman Sachs downgraded the chip maker to "sell" from "neutral" citing slowing shipments on processors, high capital expenditures, rising competition and increasing levels of capital expenditures. The brokerage also cut its overall view of the semiconductor sector to "cautious." Applied Materials was downgraded to "neutral" to "buy."
On the earnings front, Sears shares dropped after reporting a wider-than-expected losson declining sales.
Meanwhile, Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the panel investigating the causes of the financial crisis, said Thursday he was hopeful that investigators would act on the findings of his report—published last month—which found Goldman Sachs misled Congress over its involvement in the crisis.
The initial public offering calendar was busy. LinkedIn priced its IPO at $45 a share Wednesday night. The social networking site for professionals will begin trading on Thursday under the symbol LNKD.
And Glencore , the world's largest diversified commodities trader, priced its $10 billion IPO in the Hong Kong and the UK on Wednesday.
Data out of Japan also showed the countryhad fallen into recession in the first quarteras a result of the earthquake.
On Tap This Week:
THURSDAY: Existing home sales, Philadelphia Fed survey, leading indicators, money supply, Halliburton shareholder meeting, Intel shareholder meeting, McDonald's shareholder meeting, Sallie Mae annual meeting, LinkedIn IPO; earnings from GameStop and Sears before-the-bell and Gap after-the-bell.
FRIDAY: JCPenney shareholder meeting, Macy's shareholder meeting, Time Warner shareholder meeting; earnings from Ann Taylor before-the-bell.
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