Stock index futures ticked higher on Thursday as retailers posted better-than-expected sales for February and as investors awaited the latest data on the labor and housing markets.

Weekly initial jobless claims are expected to drop by 26,000 to 470,000 for the latest week. Investors will look to the data, due at 8:30 a.m., for direction on the labor market ahead of Friday's monthly non-farm payrolls report.

That report is expected to show a loss of 50,000 jobs in February.

With that as a backdrop you certainly get a lot of people who take a wait-and-see attitude. said Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst, Jefferies & Co in Boston.

The initial jobless claims -- that's been a bit of a fly in the ointment as it started ratcheting up in the higher 400,000 numbers and can be a precursor to what we see in the change in the non-farm payroll number.

Retailers are in focus as they report monthly sales results for February, which may have been hurt by the severe weather across the United States. Limited Brands Inc shares were unchanged at $22.65 in premarket after it said same-store sales rose 10 percent for the month.

Of the 10 retailers reporting sales so far, seven have topped analyst expectations, with a median surprise gain of 1.2 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

At 10 a.m., January factory orders are expected to show a 1.8 percent month-over-month rise, nearly double the 1 percent rise recorded in December. Pending home sales, also due at 10 a.m., are expected to repeat the 1 percent rise recorded in December.

S&P 500 futures added 0.5 point and were slightly 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 8 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures lost 1.5 points.

Ciena Corp tumbled 11.6 percent to $12.86 after the telecommunications network equipment maker posted first-quarter results.

Bristol-Myers Squibb Co shares were unchanged at $24.33 after the company set a baseline for profits in 2013 and gave investors their first glimpse of life after the world's second-bestselling drug, Plavix, is open to generic brand competition.

European shares edged higher as banks gained after the Bank of England held interest rates at a record low of 0.5 percent, with investors awaiting a rate decision from the European Central Bank and U.S. economic data.

Asian shares failed to hold on to early gains on Thursday, slipping into negative territory as worries about Greece's debt burden and the outlook for the global economy made investors cautious.

(Editing by Padraic Cassidy)