Futures Turn Up After Upbeat Economic News

Stock index futures turned positive after news of an unexpected fall in jobless claims and a jump in durable goods order, as investors remained skittish by spreading unrest in the Middle East.

Initial claims for unemployment fell by 22,000 to 391,000for the week ended Feb. 19, the Labor Department reported. That's down from 413,000 a week ago. The four-week moving average of claims fell to 402,000, the lowest since mid-2008.

Meanwhile, new orders for durable goods soared 2.7 percent in January due to a boost in aircraft bookings, the Commerce Department said. The increase was in line with expectations.

Oil prices continue to rise on the political upheaval in Libya, there is concern a long period of high oil prices will thwart the economic recovery. The price of U.S. light sweet crude for April delivery rose above $100 a barrel, while London Brent rose above $114 a barrel.

The price of gold, meanwhile, held steady at a seven-week high above $1,413 an ounce. The dollar fell slightly against a basket of currencies.

In earnings news, General Motors rose slightly after reporting its first full-year profit since 2004. The automaker slightly beat analyst estimates, although earnings before interest and taxes were slightly below estimates.

GM's results come at a pivotal time for investor sentiment in the auto industry, still widely seen as being in the early stage of recovery from its near-collapse in 2008 and 2009.

Also, Targetposted a 10.5 percent increase in profitwith $1.45 a share. Shares were flat premarket.

Sears reported profits fell in the latest quarter.

Also in U.S. economic news, new home sales and the Federal Housing Finance Agency home price data will be released at 10 a.m. Home sales are expected to drop to 310,00 in January from 329,000. Crude inventories are also due.

The Treasury will auction $29 billion in 7-year notes at 1 p.m. and St.Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard speaks at 8:30 a.m. on the outlook for monetary policy.

Shares in Europe fell for the fourth consecutive day on Thursday as the turmoil in Libya sent oil prices higher and fueled investors’ concerns about global growth.

On Tap This Week:

THURSDAY: USDA agricultural trade outlook, new home sales, natural gas inventories, oil inventories, 7-year Treasury note auction, money supply; earnings after-the-bell from AIG, First Solar, Gap and Salesforce.
FRIDAY: GDP (second reading), consumer sentiment; earnings before-the-bell from JCPenney.

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