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Futures Shrug Off Weak Jobs Picture, Stay Flat

Stock market futures indicated a flat open for Wall Street, with traders little fazed by economic data showing jobless claims remaining at an elevated level.

A government report showed that weekly claims fell 2,000 compared a revised figure from last week, but the four-week moving average put the number of filers at the highest level since December 2011.

With a lackluster jobs picture likely already priced into the market, the report did little to move futures, which looked for direction the day after a mixed bag of news from the Federal Reserve.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on Wednesday announced an extension of the bank’s asset swap program known as “Operation Twist”, but stopped short of delivering another round of quantitative easing.

The Fed also revised down its forecast for U.S. economic growth this year. Trading was volatile Wednesday, with the market turning sharply lower during a Bernanke news conference, only to recover and end near unchanged for the day.

Traders were awaiting the remainder of a full batch of economic news for further clues about growth prospects.

Existing home sales for May and the Philadelphia Fed index of factory activity in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region for June both are due at 10 am New York time.

In company news, Best Buy shares likely will be called higher after the electronics retailer authorized a 6 percent dividend increase.

In earnings news, ConAgra Foods turned a profit of 51 cents a share in the quarter, a penny better than expectations, though sales were a shade below expectations. Shares gained about 1 percent in light premarket trading.

On the downside, Celgene shares plunged more than 10 percent after the drugmaker said it is withdrawing its application for new uses for its Revlimid drug, but plans to resubmit its application with more "mature data."

TJX shares climbed following an upgrade to "outperform" from "market perform" at Wells Fargo, which also raised earnings estimates for the T.J. Maxx parent.

Overnight in Asia, the HSBC Flash Purchasing Managers Index, which tracks activity in the private sector, showed China's factory output contracted for an eighth straight month in June. Export orders and prices turned in their weakest showing since early 2009.

European equities fell about 0.5 percent in early trade on Thursday and stocks also sold off in Asia, dented by the weak Chinese data and disappointment over the extent of stimulus announced by the Fed.

The euro zone crisis remained in the spotlight, with Spain's medium-term borrowing costshitting a new euro era high at a debt auction on Thursday, a few hours before Madrid sheds light on the state of its weaker banks and possibly makes a formal request for European Union funds to rescue them.

Spain sold 2.2 billion euros ($2.8 billion) in medium-term bonds with yields on the 5-year paper rising to 15-year highs.

Also in company news, Johnson & Johnson is close to reaching a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over allegations it promoted anti psychotic drug Risperdal for unapproved uses that could cost the healthcare conglomerate at least $1.5 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported. Shares edged lower in premarket trading.

Meanwhile, a U.S. judge questioned Apple's bid for an injunction against Google's MotorolaMobility unit on Wednesday as the iPhone maker tries to salvage its position in a number of patent disputes with rivals.

And Wells Fargo is looking to move some jobs outside the United States as it pushes forward with a company-wide cost-cutting program.