Stock index futures rose on Thursday after the Arab League said a peace plan for Libya was under consideration, sending oil prices lower.
Some have questioned the substance of the plan, put forth by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Nonetheless, a resolution to unrest in the region could remove a major headwind to equities.
Crude prices have spiked in recent weeks on concerns the unrest in Libya could lead to supply disruptions. In recent weeks equities have had an inverse correlation with oil prices as market participants fretted that high energy costs will weigh on economic activity.
April crude futures fell 1 percent but remained above the key $100 per barrel level. Brent crude oil was down 1.2 percent to $115.
Anything that could potentially resolve the issue in Libya is going to help take a little bit of pressure off and affect the mind-set of energy traders, said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Florida-based Banyan Partners LLC. He added that any plan that didn't remove Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi from office was unlikely to gain much support.
Investors awaited weekly jobless claims, which are seen rising to 398,000 from 391,000 in the previous week. The data is due at 8:30 a.m. EST.
Wednesday's strong ADP employment report brought optimism about the labor market and suggested Friday's payroll report could be strong, though in recent months there has been little correlation between the two.
If claims stay below 400,000, that would be a good sign that the economy is moving along and layoffs are slowing, Pavlik said.
Several top U.S. retailers posted bigger-than-expected sales gains for February, with initial sales results appearing to confirm recent consumer confidence data showing the U.S. economy remains on solid footing despite the spike in gas prices.
S&P 500 futures rose 11.9 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 added 80 points and Nasdaq 100 futures jumped 17 points.
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American International Group Inc
AIG shares rose 0.8 percent to $37.60 in premarket trading while MetLife rose 1.4 percent to $44.
Overseas, the euro zone's services economy enjoyed its fastest upturn since August 2007 in February, though it was marked by fast-rising inflationary pressures.
The Institute for Supply Management's February non-manufacturing index, to be released at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT), is seen rising to 59.5 from 59.4 in January.
U.S. stocks eked out gains on light volume on Wednesday despite another rise in oil prices, as investors bet the latest data signaled the economy could absorb expected higher energy costs.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)