Futures point to higher open on last day of the year

Wall Street looks set to end 2014 on a high, with U.S. stock index futures pointing to a stronger start to Wednesday's trade.

Futures pared gains slightly after the weekly initial jobless claims numbers came in a bit higher than expected at 298,000.

The Chicago Purchasing Managers' Index for December is due at 9:45 a.m., followed shortly by pending home sales figures.

Europe markets, which are mostly due to close around midday GMT on Wednesday, were higher, despite concerns about Greece's political future. In Asia, meanwhile, shares were mixed amid thin volumes, with Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines shut for public holidays.

Oil prices will continue to be in focus, with the rout deepening on Wednesday. Benchmark Brent crude fell to a 5-1/2-year low below $57 a barrel.

Stocks to watch include BP, after the U.K.'s Financial Times reported the supermajor was investigating financial traders in its oil and gas group for foreign exchange manipulation.

Drug store chain operator Walgreen Co. completed its merger with Britain's Alliance Boots, with the combined company trading under the WBA ticker and the name Walgreen Boots Alliance. Greg Wasson, who had served as Walgreen CEO, is retiring, with Stefano Pessina becoming acting CEO.

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Utilities stocks will be on watch today, with that sector being the year's best performer—but yesterday's worst. 2014's best performing utility stocks include Integrys Energy, Edison International, Entergy, and Pepco Holdings.

CNBC's Peter Schacknow contributed to this report.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that initial jobless claims numbers come out at 8:30 a.m. ET and that Chicago PMI is due at 9:45 a.m.