(REUTERS) -- Stock index futures edged lower on Thursday as investors awaited weekly jobless claims data for signs the economy will continue to support equities, coming off their best first quarter in 14 years.

The Labor Department releases first-time claims for jobless benefits at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT). Economists in a Reuters survey forecast 350,000 new filings, compared with 348,000 in the prior week. Improvement in the data has stalled in recent weeks and could be a worrying sign for investors.

S&P 500 futures fell 4.6 points but were just 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 lost 32 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures were off 9.5 points.

The S&P 500 is up 11.8 percent this quarter, its best start to the year since 1998 and its best quarter since the third period of 2009.

The Commerce Dept releases its final estimate for fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) and corporate profits, also at 8:30 a.m. Economists forecast a 3.0 percent annualized pace of GDP growth, a repeat of the preliminary estimate.

European stocks dipped 0.8 percent early Thursday, hitting three-week lows as lower-than-expected U.S. macro data fueled fears of a slowdown in global growth, while investors awaited Italy's bond auction results, keen to gauge the strength of demand.

The Nikkei eased 0.7 percent to 10,114.79 as investors locked in profits from a meteoric January-March rally that is poised to be its best first-quarter performance in 24 years.

Roche Holding AG hiked its cash bid for U.S. gene sequencing company Illumina Inc to $6.7 billion, the Swiss drugmaker said as it sought to win over shareholders before Illuminant's annual meeting next month.

Red Hat Inc.'s quarterly profit beat expectations for the fifth straight quarter on higher subscription revenue. The business software maker also said it will buy back $300 million of its shares.

Pentair Inc. reached a $4.6 billion stock deal to absorb Tyco International Ltd's flow-control business, roughly doubling Pent air's size.

Private equity-backed Redford Corp., an industrial parts maker, priced its initial public offering at $18 a share on Wednesday, at the low end of its expected range, an underwriter said.

Applied Materials Inc. forecast 2012 results below Wall Street targets and will cut costs to offset a persistent downturn in solar and display markets.

Electronics retailer Best Buy Co. is due to report quarterly results, with earnings per share seen at $2.16 versus $1.98 one year earlier, according to a Reuters poll. The company may discuss whether market share gains came at the expense of margins after it offered deep discounts in the 2011 holiday season.

(Reporting By Edward Krudy; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)