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Futures signal Wall Street's record rise to continue

U.S. stock-index futures stepped modestly higher on Wednesday, a day after the Dow rose above 18,000 for the first time, as data showed fewer Americans than expected filed for unemployment benefits last week, with trading volume likely to be thin a day ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Futures drifting higher after the Labor Department reported jobless claims fell by 9,000 to 280,000 in the week ending Dec. 20. The four-week moving average fell to 290,250 last week from 298,750.

Achillion Pharmaceuticals rose in early New York trading after Tuesday's 24 percent drop as biotechnology shares were hit by worries insurers and drug-benefit managers might try to restrict how the price of drugs; Cal-Maine Foods fell after the egg producer reported quarterly earnings short of estimates.

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Investors cheered Tuesday's so-called "Santa rally" which saw the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average set records in a fifth day of gains after data showed the U.S. economy expanded in the third quarter by the most in 11 years.

Santa Claus at the New York Stock Exchange
Getty Images
Santa Claus at the New York Stock Exchange

The Dow broke through and closed above 18,000 for the first time Tuesday, and the S&P 500 closed at a record 2,082, just 18 points shy of 2,100.

Stocks close at 1 p.m. Eastern, ahead of Thursday's holiday, and reopen for a full trading day Friday.

European shares were mixed on Wednesday, failing to gain traction from the rally seen in the U.S.

The U.K.'s FTSE 100 is set to close at 12.30 p.m. London time with the major European bourses ending at 1.00 p.m. London time. Indexes in Italy and Germany are both closed throughout the day.

In Russia, the MICEX index was flat despite ratings agency Standard & Poor's warning late Tuesday that it could soon downgrade Russia's rating to "junk" status.