Futures point higher; Oil, US data eyed amid Greece

U.S. stock index futures signaled a higher open on Thursday, ahead of key media company earnings and after the European Central Bank (ECB) put more pressure on Greece's new government.

Futures were also encouraged by a positive turn in oil by more than 2.5 percent after Wednesday's nearly 9 percent plunge.

The gains came as European equities moved lower, after the ECB took a hard line on Greek debt Wednesday, revoking a waiver that allowed banks to use Greek government debt as collateral for loans.

Futures extended gains slightly after digesting U.S. economic data. Weekly jobless claims came in at 278,000, below estimates of 290,000 and above last week's 267,000 figure.

Non-farm productivity fell a greater-than-expected 1.8 percent for the fourth quarter. Economists had forecast productivity, which measures hourly output per worker, rising at a 0.5 percent pace.

The U.S. trade deficit for December widened sharply to its highest level since 2012. The Commerce Department said on Thursday the trade deficit jumped 17.1 percent to $46.6 billion, the largest since November 2012. It was the biggest percentage increase since July 2009.

The number of planned layoffs by U.S. employers rose to a nearly two-year high in January as the energy industry slashed jobs in the face of falling oil prices, according to a report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Traders work the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
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Traders work the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Greek stocks were down 5 percent during the morning session, with Greece's Bank of Piraeus losing 27 percent at the open and the National Bank of Greece tanking 26 percent.

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On the earnings front, Twitter, News Corporation, LinkedIn, video game maker Activision Blizzard, entertainment firm Lionsgate, GoPro and CME Group are among the companies due to report after the bell.

CME Group will be in focus after the group announced plans to close most of its futures trading pits in Chicago and New York City by July 2 on Wednesday. Philip Morris, Estee Lauder, Michael Kors, Dunkin Brands, Towers Watson, Delphi Automotive are reporting before market open.

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Speaking from a conference in Frankfurt, Germany early on Thursday, Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren said "a policy of patience" regarding rate rises in the U.S. "continues to be appropriate".

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"This is particularly true given the inherent asymmetry that we face at the zero lower bound – meaning, while we have all kinds of room to respond to an unexpectedly favorable shock, we remain quite limited in our ability to respond to negative shocks," he said, according to Reuters.