US Markets

US futures embrace strong data; Fed and Russia brushed off


U.S. stock-index futures indicated that Wall Street looked set to maintain the gains posted on Thursday after reports on U.S. leading indicators and regional manufacturing spurred optimism, with stocks recovering from concerns over Federal Reserve moves and heightened tensions between Russia and the West.

Tiffany shares slid 3.7 percent in early New York trade after the jewelry chain projected a fiscal-year profit beneath estimates; Darden Restaurants posted third-quarter revenue just under forecasts, with its shares off 2.6 percent.

On Friday, Fitch Ratings affirmed U.S. long-term foreign and local currency credit ratings at 'AAA' with a stable outlook, taking the country off negative ratings watch.

Wall Street had declined on Wednesday, halting a two-day climb that had the S&P 500 not far from its record close, after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said that the "considerable period" between the end of the central bank's quantitative-easing program and its first rate hike could be six months.

However, positive data helped U.S. markets pare mid-week losses. On Thursday. data showed the count of Americans filing for jobless benefits rose by 5,000 to 320,000 last week, less than the 325,000 estimated by economists polled by Reuters. The four-week moving average for new claims, viewed as a better gauge overall of labor conditions, dropped 3,500 to 327,000, the lowest since November.

Other reports had existing-home sales for February falling to 4.60 million compared to a 4.66 million estimate. Leading indicators rose 0.5 percent in February, versus estimates of a 0.4 percent rise, and the Philadelphia Fed's manufacturing gauge climbed to 9.0 in March from negative 6.3 the previous month.

Wall Street was also cheered by news on Thursday that 29 out of 30 major U.S. banks have enough capital to cope with another recession, according to the Fed's stress tests.

(Read more: Fitch Ratings takes US off negative ratings watch)

Asian equities rose on Friday on the positive data from the U.S., and the Chinese market was boosted by speculation the government may have more stimulus to unleash.

Elsewhere, markets appear to have shrugged off the emergence of a sanctions war between Russia and the West over the former's annexation of Crimea, perhaps encouraged by both sides viewing military action as a no-go.

The European Union agreed to expand the bloc's list of people targeted with sanctions over tensions in Ukraine by 12 names, and asked the European Commission to prepare an assessment of the potential impact of broad economic sanctions against Russia. It comes after a downgrade of Russia's credit rating by Standard & Poor's.

(Read more: Sanctions and S&P may spoil Russia's Crimean party)

On Friday, the Russian stock market traded sharply lower after U.S. President Barack Obama threatened to impose sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy.