Stocks headed for a rise at Thursday's opening as investors bet that Wall Street might hold off from hitting fresh bear-market lows as a search for beaten-down shares provides support.

Even so, the likely bounce from three-month lows faces a drag from fresh government data showing the number of U.S. workers continuing to claim jobless benefits jumped to a record in the first week of February.

Sectors set to provide an underpinning include financials, technology and energy -- the very sectors that have contributed to the market's recent descent.

Before the bell, ConocoPhillips climbed 0.5 percent to $42.50 as U.S. front-month crude rose nearly 3 percent to $35.53 a barrel.

Among financials, JPMorgan added 1.6 percent to $21.86. On the technology front, Microsoft gained 0.8 percent to $18.27, but Hewlett-Packard Co was off 3.3 percent at $32.95 after cutting its outlook.

There's some early-morning speculation that we would not break to new lows, said Andre Bakhos, president of Princeton Financial Group in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

There's hope that the November lows could hold despite the fact that, as of late, what appears to be good news -- the stimulus and the mortgage plan -- has not been well received.

S&P 500 futures rose 15.10 points, and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures climbed 117 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures gained 17.00 points.

According to Reuters data, the benchmark S&P 500 <.SPX> shows the broader market is at its most oversold condition in a month, based on a 50-day relative strength gauge.

In Europe, Nestle , the world's biggest food maker, provided rare welcome news on the earnings front when it reported strong underlying 2008 sales growth of 8.3 percent and, unlike some rivals, was cautiously upbeat for 2009.

A survey of mid-Atlantic manufacturing activity is due at 10 a.m..

(Editing by James Dalgleish)