Stock index futures pointed to a slightly higher open on Wall Street on Thursday, with futures for the Dow Jones and Nasdaq 100 both up 0.2 percent and S&P 500 futures up 0.1 percent at 0830 GMT.

European stocks were flat on Thursday, hovering around a three-week low as rallying mining shares offset losses in the energy sector, where Total extended its slide, hit by worries over a gas leak in the North Sea.

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

Roche Holding hiked its cash bid for U.S. gene sequencing company Illumina to $6.7 billion, the Swiss drugmaker said as it seeks to win over shareholders ahead of Illumina's annual general meeting next month.

News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch vowed to hit back hard against what his company president called baseless allegations from the BBC that a subsidiary ran a secret unit to promote piracy against pay-TV rivals.

Loss-making General Motors unit Opel is considering the sale of its Eisenach plant in Germany where it manufactures the Corsa subcompact and was due to begin building the Junior later this year, German newspaper Handelsblatt reported on Thursday.

Red Hat Inc's RHT.N quarterly profit beat analysts' expectation for the fifth straight quarter on the back of higher subscription revenue, and the business software maker said it would buy back $300 million of its shares.

Hawker Beechcraft Inc, the aircraft manufacturer owned by Goldman Sachs Group Inc's private equity arm and Onex Corp , is preparing to file for bankruptcy protection in the next several weeks, according to several people familiar with the matter.

U.S. authorities filed criminal charges on Wednesday against a JetBlue Airways pilot who witnesses said yelled incoherently about religion and the 2001 hijack attacks and pounded on a locked cockpit door before passengers subdued him.

Pentair Inc
reached a $4.6 billion stock deal to absorb Tyco International Ltd's flow-control business, roughly doubling Pentair's size and making it the largest player in its sector, majority-owned by Tyco shareholders.

Private equity-backed industrial parts maker Rexnord Corp 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, but plans cost reductions to offset a persistent downturn in solar and display markets.

Social-networking site Facebook is halting the sale of its shares on secondary markets effective next week as the company prepares to hold its initial public offering in May, according to a person familiar with the matter.

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

The Commerce Dept releases its final Q4 estimate for gross domestic product (GDP) and corporate profits at 1230 GMT. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a 3.0 percent annualized pace of GDP growth, a repeat of the Q4 preliminary estimate, and a 2.6 percent profits rise versus a 2.7 percent rise in the prior report.

Labor Dept releases first-time claims for jobless benefits for the week ended March 24 at 1230 GMT. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a total of 350,000 new filings compared with 348,000 in the prior week.

Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Jeffrey Lacker gives his welcome remarks at 1430 GMT, the Fed Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart speaks on the global economy before a Commerce Club panel discussion at 1615 GMT and the Fed chairman Ben Bernanke gives a lecture on The Aftermath of the Crisis at 1645 GMT.

The Fed releases weekly money stock, liquid assets and debt measures and the weekly report on factors affecting reserves of depository institutions and the condition statement of the Federal Reserve banks at 2030 GMT.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> fell 71.52 points, or 0.54 percent, to 13,126.21 points on Wednesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> slipped 6.98 points, or 0.49 percent, to 1,405.54. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> declined 15.39 points, or 0.49 percent, to 3,104.96.

(Reporting By Francesco Canepa; Editing by Mike Nesbit)