Futures Hold Gains After Jobless Claims

U.S. stock index futures held their modest gains Thursday, after jobless claims declined in the previous week to hold near four-year lows.

On the economic front, new claims for unemployment benefit declined by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 351,000 in the previous week to hold near a four-year low, according to the Labor Department. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims unchanged at 351,000 last week.

The four-week moving average for new claims fell 5,500 to 354,000—the lowest level since March 2008.

Meanwhile, personal income gained 0.3 percent in January, according to the Commerce Department. Inflation-adjusted consumer spending has now been unchanged for three straight months. The increase in income was just below expectations for a 0.4 percent increase.

Retailers gained after most stores posted stronger-than-expected sales for February, thanks to a gain in consumer confidence. Limited Brands , Target and Macy's were aming the outperformers.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart gained after the big-box retailer boosted its annual dividend by 9 percent to $1.59 a share.

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke is back on Capitol Hill today for his semi-annual economic testimony, this time before the Senate Banking Committee. The hearing will start at 10 am ET, though his testimony is not expected to differ from Wednesday’s appearance before the House Financial Services Committee. (CNBC.com will be streaming this event live.)

Throughout the day, February sales figures from U.S. automakers including General Motors, Ford and Toyota will be posted throughout the day.

Research In Motion tumbled after Jefferies & Co. said the Blackberry maker is likely to pre-announce poor February quarter results and forecast a weak May quarter due to falling sales.

European shares were higher on positive investor sentiment about the impact of this week's ECB cash injection on the banking sector and peripheral countries such as Italy.

The Institute for Supply Management’s February manufacturing index is scheduled to be reported at 10 am ET. Economists expect a reading of 54.5 from 54.1 in the previous month. At the same time, the government’s January construction spending report is also expected.

—Follow JeeYeon Park on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC

Coming Up This Week:

THURSDAY: ISM mfg index, construction spending, Fed's Lockhart speaks, Fed's Williams speaks, auto sales, chain store sales
FRIDAY: Fed's Bullard speaks, Yelp set to trade

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