Futures Hold Gains on Solid Economic Signs

Stock market futures remained on path for a higher open following a batch of mostly upbeat economic reports on unemployment, inflation and manufacturing.

The government said weekly jobless claims regained a four-year low while producer prices rose 0.4 percent, boosted primarily from an energy price increase. New York manufacturing rose unexpectedly, though that survey also showed prices pressures building.

The market is expected to open slightly to the upside after re-establishing post-financial crisis highs in sleepy Wednesday trading.

In company news, clothing maker Guess? disappointed the market by forecasting earnings of 25 to 28 cents per share, well below estimates of 48 cents. The company said sales have fallen in Europe, where consumers have taken a hit from government austerity measures connected to the sovereign debt crisis.

Guess?, which gets 40 percent of its revenue from Europe, saw its shares slide more than 11 percent premarket.

Capital One Financial shares also are under pressure after the credit leader announced a $1.25 billion common stock offering to finance its previously announced acquisition of HSBC's U.S. credit card business. Shares fell about 1 percent premarket.

Also, Radvision shares moved higher premarket on news that the Israeli video conferencing company is being bought by equipment market Avaya in a deal worth $230 million. Radvision rose 4.5 percent premarket.

Meanwhile, Apple also is on the cusp of another milestone — breaking the $600 barrier, which it was just below in premarket trading.

At 10 a.m. on Thursday the Philadelphia Fed index will be released. Economists polled by Briefing.com forecast the monthly index rose from 10.2 in February to 12.5 in March.

In addition, the Energy Department will report its weekly assessment of natural gas inventories at 10:30 a.m.

The controversy generated Wednesday by former Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith remained in the news. Smith announced his resignationin a scathing op-ed the New York Times published, and Goldman executives responded with a sharp rebuttal against Smith's charges that the company had lost sight of its mission and put the company's goals ahead of customer service.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon issued a memoof his own, telling the bank's workers to focus on their own standards and to avoid trying to capitalize on another firm's troubles.

Shares of both companies traded slightly higher in premarket action.

Across other markets, commodities were mildly negative, with the Jefferies CRB Index down a shade. Crude oil and gold were looking for direction, while the U.S. dollar fell against a basket of foreign currencies.

The U.S. free trade agreement with South Korea goes into force on Thursday, having been signed by President Obama on October 21 of last year. Under the agreement, almost 80 percent of U.S. exports of industrial products and around 65 percent of agricultural products will become duty-free.

Thursday’s earning calendar includes retailer chains Casual Male at 7 a.m. New York time and Ross Stores at 11 a.m. Cable TV channel operator AMC Network will release earnings at 10 a.m.

European shares steadied in early morning trade on Thursday after Wednesday’s rally, with investors awaiting U.S. data.