Stock index futures pointed to a slightly higher open on Thursday as jobless claims hovered near multi-year lows, though investors had little reason to continue buying after healthy gains so far this year.
The S&P 500 advanced 4.1 percent in February, while the Dow rose 2.5 percent and the Nasdaq was up 5.4 percent. However, since much of the upside has come on light trading volume, many traders have forecast a near-term pullback.
We've come up real strongly over the past two strong months, and at some point we will need to digest, said Wayne Kaufman, chief market analyst at John Thomas Financial in New York. There was nothing in the data to move the needle one way or the other.
U.S. jobless claims fell by 2,000 to 351,000 in the latest week, holding near four-year lows, according to a government report.
Investors also looked ahead to the Institute for Supply Management's February manufacturing index, due at 10 a.m. EST, which is seen rising to 54.5 from 54.1 in the previous month.
S&P 500 futures rose 3.6 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 35 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 10 points.
The data comes a day after comments from U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that disappointed those hoping for signals of more monetary stimulus.
Bernanke offered a tempered view of the economy, pouring cold water on the notion that recent upbeat signs heralded a stronger recovery. He told U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee that unless growth accelerated, unacceptably high unemployment would not keep dropping.
Bernanke will deliver his semi-annual testimony on monetary policy later Thursday before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee.
Retail stocks were in focus as many chains reported stronger-than-expected gains in February same-store sales. Target Corp (TGT.N) rose 1.3 percent to $57.45 before the bell, while Buckle Inc (BKE.N) gained 3 percent to $46.25.
Car companies will be in focus, with February vehicle sales seen rising slightly. Ford Motor Co (F.N) is expected to have recorded some of the biggest monthly gains. The stock edged up 0.4 percent to $12.43 in premarket trading.
European shares finance/markets/index?symbol=gb%21FTPP>.FTEU3 advanced 0.9 percent, with investors turning more upbeat on the impact from the European Central Bank's pumping 530 billion euros of cash into the banking system. U.S.-listed shares of Barclays Plc (BCS.N) rose 2.8 percent to $16 in premarket trading, while HSBC Holding Plc (HBC.N) added 1.3 percent to $45.
U.S. stocks slipped on Wednesday, snapping a four-day winning streak after Bernanke's comments disappointed investors hoping for a strong signal of more stimulus. In February, the Dow rose 2.5 percent and the Nasdaq added 5.4 percent.