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GM Dents Futures; Jobless Claims Help

Stocks were headed for a lower open Thursday, pressured by doubts about whether General Motors can survive and ahead of a hearing with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Futures improved slightly after the pre-market economic data were released but it wasn't enough to push futures into positive territory.

Jobless claims dropped by 31,000last week to 639,000, better than the 650,000 economists had expected. Continuing claims dropped by 14,000 to 5.11 million.

On Wednesday, stocks rebounded off of 12-year lows as investors welcomed details of the Obama administration's mortgage-rescue plan to stem the growing number of foreclosures.

Productivity showed a worse-than-expected decline for the fourth quarter, while wages pressures increased significantly.

Still to come: January factory orders are due out at 10 am ET.

Also at 10 am, two hearings on Capitol Hill: The Senate Banking Committee will assemble to discuss what went wrong with insurance giant AIG and the House Budget Committee will hold a hearing with testimony from Timothy Geithner on President Barack Obama's fiscal 2010 budget.

And Atlanta Federal Reserve President Dennis Lockhart will speak about the economic outlook at 12:45 pm in Atlanta, Georgia.

Auditors again raised questions about General Motors' sustainability, an expected development but one that nonetheless rattled the market.

General Electric shares continued to slide but were off their morning lows after the CFO of CNBC.com's parent company told CNBC that concerns over credit exposure from GE Capital were overblown.

In other news, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez pushed on with his so-called socialist revolution by seizing control of a unit of American food giantCargill. The move is a bid to guarantee low costs on food staples like rice.

Ford’s supplier Visteon got a vote of confidence from the struggling automaker as Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally said there were no plans to change its arrangement with the former affiliate.

Nevertheless, the uncertainty surrounding GM spread through the industry, and Ford's shares were trading 7.5 percent lower premarket.

Wall Street also was watching foreign banking moves with some interest. The Bank of England cut rates 0.5 percent, and the European Central Bank also was expected to ease.

Google plans to hoard cash as it battles with the economic downturn, but doesn’t expect the move to hurts revenues, Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said. The Internet search giant plans to build an $8.6 billion cash cushion for “very conservative investments” only.

Seven top executives at Merrill Lynch received subpoenas from New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, sources familiar with the investigation told CNBC. The investigation deals with bonus payments made in the run up to Bank of America’s takeover of Merrill last year.

Staying in the financial sector, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase saw their current ratings come into question by Moody's Investors Service. Moody's indicated the bank’s ratings could be lowered in the near future.

Bank shares were largely lower preopen, with Bank of America off 5.3 percent, Wells Fargo down 6.3 percent and JPMorgan down 4.5 percent.

Still to Come:

THURSDAY: ExxonMobil analyst meeting; factory orders; Senate hearing on AIG; Geithner testifies at House budget hearing; Fed's Lockhart speaks
FRIDAY: Jobs report; consumer credit

Send comments to cindy.perman@nbcuni.com.