US investors look to Jackson Hole, Yellen's speech

U.S. stock-index futures indicated a higher open on Thursday, with the S&P 500 positioned to open at or near its all-time high, as the closely watched Jackson Hole symposium of central bankers gets underway.

Stock futures held the bulk of their gains as the government reported initial jobless claims fellby 14,000 to 298,000 last week.

It comes after the U.S. Federal Reserve released minutes of its July meeting on Wednesday. They showed officials discussed raising interest rates sooner, but continued to disagree on how much the labor market is improving.

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"Yesterday's July Fed minutes seemed to have a slightly more hawkish tone than previous meetings although they continued to stress that the Fed sees the risks to their outlook as balanced," Deutsche Bank economists led by Seb Barker said in a morning note.

"Taken together these minutes seemed to indicate a slight shift of the Committee's center ground towards the hawks even as that center remained in dovish territory."

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U.S. stocks rose on Wednesday after the release of the minutes, as traders digested the possibility of a sooner-than-expected rate hike.

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This mixed picture has placed even more importance on comments by Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who is due to address the meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on Friday.

Other data releases due Friday include existing home sales at 10:00 a.m., the Philadelphia Fed survey at 10 a.m. and leading indicators at 10 a.m.

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Results from Gap, Intuit and come after the market close.

In Europe on Thursday, shares were higher despite some disappointing business activity data for the euro zone, amid signs of stabilization in France's struggling economy.

Equity markets in Asia were mixed, with Chinese shares significantly lower after a lower-than-expected preliminary reading of mainland manufacturing activity.