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Futures Tick Higher as Jobless Claims Drop

Stocks were headed for a slightly higher open Thursday after a report showed jobless claims fell last week.

Initial jobless claims fell by 4,000last week, the third straight week of decline. Continuing claims fell to 6.735 million. It was the first time that continuing claims declined since early January, following 17 straight weeks of record highs.

Meanwhile, nonfarm productivity rose 1.6 percent in the first quarter, much higher than the initial estimate of 0.8 percent and the 0.6 percent drop in the fourth quarter.

Futures had gotten off to a rocky start as the May sales reports trickling out from the nation's largest retailers still showed consumers reluctant to spend.

Costco, Hot Topic and Stage Stores all reported drops more than analysts expected, while The Buckle said it exceeded expectations.

Costco shares fell nearly 1 percent in premarket trading.

For the first time, Wal-Mart will not release a monthly report, having said last month that henceforth, figures would only be issued quarterly.

In the meantime, there will be several economic signposts to keep the Street occupied--including the weekly jobless claims report, which will provide at least a bit of speculative fodder for tomorrow's numbers. Initial jobless claims will be released at 8:30 am New York time. First quarter productivity numbers will also be out at 8:30 am.

Chrysler's dealer controversy should come to a head this morning, with a bankruptcy judge expected to rule on whether the automaker can go ahead with the planned shutdown of hundreds of dealerships as it proceeds through bankruptcy.

In energy, oil prices were staging a rebound from Wednesday's drop, gaining about $1 to more than $67 a barrel.

But shares of Valero fell nearly 2 percent in premarket trading after the company repriced its public offering of 40 million shares to $18, a slight discount to Wednesday's close but sharply below the original estimate. Also, BMO cut its rating of Valero to underperform from market perform as the company announced earlier this week it would be suspending its expansion of the Valero Port Arthur Refinery.

Shares of financials were mostly higher after the Bank of England and the European Central Bank both interest rates steady, as expected. Citigroup gained 1.8 percent premarket, just days after being tossed out of the Dow industrials index, while Bank of America also was up nearly 2 percent.

- Peter Schacknow, senior producer, CNBC Breaking News Desk, contributed to this report.

Still to Come:

THURSDAY: NY Fed Pres. Dudley speaks; Chain-store sales
FRIDAY: May jobs report; consumer credit

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