Futures Get Lift From Drop in Jobless Claims

U.S. stock index futures jumped higher after the government said the level of jobless claims filed in the past week fell more than expected.

After struggling to find direction earlier, futures indicated that this week's rally could continue. The Labor Department said the number of people filing for state unemployment benefits fell 21,000 to 454,000 last week, 6,000 fewer than expected.

The major indexes all saw gains of around 3 percent by Wednesday's close after State Street gave an upbeat outlook, which boosted investor sentiment.

June sales numbers from retail stores will be out throughout the morning session, while the Labor Department will release its weekly report on initial unemployment claims at 8:30 am New York time. The consensus forecast is for claims of 460,000, which would be down from last week's reading of 472,000.

At 3 pm, the government is out with May consumer credit figures, which are expected to show a drop of $3 billion from the prior month.

The Energy Department will release the delayed weekly report on crude oil inventories at 11 am, pushed back a day by the Independence Day holiday.

In company news, Boeing said it will acquire privately held Narus software company for undisclosed terms. The firm helps protect large Internet protocol networks from being attacked by hackers.

And Boeing also reportedly is buying all of the outstanding shares of Argon for $34.50 apiece. The companies had announced a merger June 30. The offer represents a modest premium over Argon's closing price Wednesday.

And Walt Disney lost a $270 million judgment in a suit involving the British company that created the popular TV show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire."

Disney plans to appeal the decision, which awarded Celador Entertainment millions in unpaid revenues. In a separate Disney-related story, Reuters reports construction magnate Ron Tutor and investment firm Colony Capital are close to a deal to buy Disney's Miramax movie unit for up to $700 million in cash.

In related news, Colony Capital has joined construction industry executive Ron Tutor to bid for Disney's Miramax movie production company, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

European shares were higher after both the Bank of England and the European Central Bank both kept their key lending rates unchanged, as expected.

Also in Europe, the bank stress tests remain in focus with details of the methodology limited. Asian shares ended mostly higher on the back of Wall Street’s rally.

In other news, the International Monetary Fund raised its global growth forecast for 2010 thanks to expansion in Asia and higher U.S. private demand, but warned that the European debt crisis poses a significant recovery risk. The IMF now says 2010 growth will be 4.6 percent from its prior 4.2 percent forecast, but it left its 2011 view unchanged at 4.3 percent.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that BP is aiming to fix the leaking Gulf oil well by July 27, ahead of its publicly stated mid-August target.

Shares of BP were higher in London trading and gained 1 percent in New York premarket trading Wednesday.