Futures to Open Lower Despite Strong Claims

Stocks were set to open lower Thursday as a batch of weak earnings reports overshadowed the stronger-than-expected weekly jobless claims news.

New claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week to hit their lowest level in 2-1/2 years, according to the Labor Department, offering a glimmer of hope that the labor market was strengthening despite Januarys weak figures. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 36,000 to a seasonally adjusted 383,000, the lowest since early July 2008.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims slipping to 410,000. The prior weeks figure was revised up to 419,000, from the previously reported 415,000.

Investors took profits after a recent rise in U.S. stocks in the previous session, but a late push helped the Dow squeeze out its eighth straight day of gains.

In the morning's earnings news, Pepsi narrowly beat profit estimatesbut saw its shares slip on a disappointing outlook.

Cisco shares plunged in pre-market trading after the tech bellwetherposted a better-than-expected profit after-the-bell Wednesday, but its revenue forecast was lower than expected while its margins came under pressure.

Credit Suisse shares tumbled in pre-market trading after the bank missed profit expectationsdue to debt charges and cut its return on equity target due to tighter capital regulations.

And Sprint's revenue rose 6 percentand it added mobile subscribers for the first quarter in more than three years, sending its shares up in pre-market trading.

Molson Coors posted a lower-than-expected quarterly profit as higher fuel and commodity costs and weak industry volume in its top three markets weighed on results.

Kraft and Expedia are slated to report earnings after-the-bell.

Wholesale inventories for December will be out at 10 am ET, and they are expected to have risen 0.7 percent from November's 0.2 percent fall, according to Briefing.com.

Foreclosures have continued to rise in January, jumping 12 percent, and more pain is ahead, according to a report by RealtyTrac.

In other news, the Financial Times reported that the SEC is probing whether traders were using ETFs to disguise insider trading by buying or selling the whole ETF containing a stock rather than just the stock.

In mergers and acquisitions, Facebook and Google have held low-key talks about taking over Twitter, according to the Wall Street Journal.

NYSE Euronext confirmed it's in advanced talkswith Deutsche Boerse about a merger that would create the world's largest exchange by revenues.

The decision of the merger came shortly after the London Stock Exchange agreed to buy TMX Group, the owner of the Toronto Stock Exchange, for $3.2 billion, and follows the Singapore Exchange's bid for Australia's ASX in October 2010.

Verizon started selling Apple's iPhone, ending rival AT&T's three-year exclusivity on the device in the U.S.

And Wells Fargo's former CFO Howard Atkins stands to walk away from the company with deferred compensation, pension benefits and stock grants valued at $27.21 million, CNBC has learned.

European stocks were trading down, while Asian stocks closed mainly lower.

Coming Up This Week:

THURSDAY: Wholesale trade, Atlanta Fed speaks, 30-year Treasury bond auction, Treasury budget, Ebay investor day, Verizon iPhone goes on sale; Earnings from Kraft and Expedia.
FRIDAY: International trade, consumer sentiment, Nokia analyst day; earnings from Discovery Communications.

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