Futures Slide After Jump in Jobless Claims

U.S. stock index futures pointed to a lower open Thursday after an unexpected jump in jobless claims last week.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose by 18,000last week, the Labor Department reported. Economists had expected a small drop in claims.

This added pressure to the market, already bogged down by dual warnings Wednesday from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that the economy is "not out of the woods" and Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig about the dangers of low interest rates.

In fact, Hoenig, the lone dissenter at the past few meetings, went so far as to say that "The time is right to put the market on noticethat it must again manage its risk" — not rely on the Fed to do so.

Traders also worried about the health of the Greek economy and its debt problems.

European stock indexes were lower across the board with concerns over Greek bonds still weighing on the market, as the spread between yields on Greek bonds and German bunds rose to a new record high. Asian stocks ended in the red in the wake of the negative session on Wall Street.

The Dow saw another setback Wednesday with a 72-point drop. The index now has its first two-day losing streak since February 22-23, and is below the 10,900 level.

The nation's major chain stores will be reporting their March sales results through the morning, with Thomson Reuters analysts predicting an overall 6.3 percent increase over March 2009.

Costco Wholesale's same-store sales rose 10 percent, a steeper increase than analysts predicted.

The Bank of England and the European Central Bank as expected both kept their lending rates flat.

The Treasury will auction $13 billion 30-year bonds Thursday, with results available shortly after 1 pm. That follows strong demand during Wednesday's sales of 10-year notes.

For a second straight day Fed-related speeches will take place: Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota will appear before the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce at 2:45 pm. Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn will speak at a San Francisco Fed event at 4 pm.

In the airline sector, United Airlines and U.S. Airways are in merger talks. Another airline deal is now fact, with Spain's Iberia and the UK's British Airways announcing a definitive merger agreement.

In other news, Bed Bath & Beyond beat Wall Street estimates with its latest earnings and raised guidance for its fiscal year.

And Peabody Energy , which wants to buy Australia's Macarthur Coal, but has been rebuffed, is now asking Australian regulators to intervene to prevent Macarthur from buying a smaller local rival.

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