Futures Higher on Jobs News; Retailers Slip

Stock futures added to gains Thursday after the government reported that weekly jobless claims fell to their lowest level in 14 months.

A report that 457,000 claims were filed last week coincided with a monthly productivity gain of 8.1 percent to boost investor spirits on a busy news day.

Thursday's docket is so full that investors may not spend much time thinking about those jobs numbers.

The NBC Universal/Comcast deal became official ahead of the open, giving Comcast a 51 percent stake in NBCU (the parent of CNBC), while GE would retain a 49 percent stake.

GE shares gained 0.8 percent in premarket trading while picked up 2.4 percent.

Bank of America is helping spur a rise in bank stocks, which in turn is pushing U.S. stock index futures and overseas markets higher. BofA has announced it will pay back the $45 billion it took in TARP funds, which will allow it to escape from pay restrictions as it searches for a new CEO.

Premarket trading was robust for BofA, sending shares higher by 3.3 percent even though the company is also planning a capital raise, which generally is dilutive for shares.

Market gains could be limited by some dismal news from retailers.

Macy's served as a bellwether for the group and reported that it missed November sales numbers for stores open at least a year. Sales fell 6.1 percent for the month and other retailers appeared ready to follow suit.

Macy's shares fell 1.8 percent in premarket trading, while the SPDR Retail exchange-traded fund, which tracks the industry's leaders, was off 1 percent.

Retailers will be releasing their individual results for the month of November throughout the morning, with the exception of Wal-Mart, which no longer releases monthly numbers.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will be before the Senate Banking Committee later for a hearing on his nomination for a second term as chairman. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has placed a "hold" on the nomination, which could force Senate leaders to come up with 60 votes to move the nomination forward.

The White House holds its "jobs forum," with numerous corporate leaders in attendance, in an event likely to produce many headlines.

The House will vote on permanent changes to the estate tax. The proposed changes would permanently tax estates at 45 percent with an exemption for the first $3.5 million.

The day's economic calendar is also a busy one. The European Central Bank will be out with its latest interest rate decision and policy statement at 7:45 am New York time. At 8:30 am, investors will get the latest numbers on third quarter productivity, with economists looking for a revision to an 8.6 percent annual rate from the previously reported 9.5 percent. The Labor Department is out at the same time with the weekly read on initial jobless claims, expected to rise to 493,000 from last week's 466,000.

Winterizing Your Portfolio - A CNBC Special Report
Winterizing Your Portfolio - A CNBC Special Report

At 10 am, the Institute For Supply Management will issue its monthly non-manufacturing index, with economists looking for a reading of 51.7. That would be up from last month's 50.6.

- Written by Peter Schacknow, Senior Producer, CNBC Breaking News Desk