U.S. stock index futures pointed to a lower opening on Wall Street on Thursday, with futures for the S&P 500, the Dow Jones industrial average and Nasdaq 100 down 0.4 to 0.5 percent.

At 8.30 a.m. EST the Labor Department will release first-time claims numbers for jobless benefits for the week ended January 2. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a total of 447,000 new filings compared with 432,000 in the prior week. This is ahead of the all-important government non-farm payrolls employment report due on Friday.

A top Federal Reserve official, James Bullard, said on Thursday, the labor market in the United States is improving and the economy is close to the point where the unemployment rate will start to fall.

The ICSC releases chain store sales for December versus a year ago. In the previous month, sales fell 0.3 percent versus a year ago.

In results news, Apollo is due to report first-quarter figures, with analysts in a Reuters poll expecting the company to have earn $1.46 a share, up from $1.12 a year ago.

Constellation Brands is reporting third-quarter earnings, with analysts in a Reuters poll expecting the company to earn 0.52 cents a share compared with 0.60 cents a year ago.

British confectioner Cadbury's shares dipped below the level of Kraft Foods' 10.6 billion-pound ($17 billion) bid for the first time on Thursday as prospects of a rival bid receded and analysts reckoned Kraft now needs to only slightly sweeten its offer to win.

A former senior executive at Citigroup Inc has decided to take legal action against the company to force it to resume paying his multi-million dollar severance package that has been frozen for six months, the Financial Times said, citing people close to the situation.

Shares in Ruby Tuesday Inc jumped nearly 6 percent to $8.10 after the bell on Wednesday after the restaurant operator posted a surprise quarterly profit and revenue above Wall Street's forecasts.

Shares in Zumiez Inc jumped more than 12 percent to $14.24 after the bell on Wednesday after the apparel retailer posted December sales and forecast fourth-quarter profit to beat Wall Street's forecasts.

Shares in Bed Bath & Beyond Inc rose 6.3 percent to $41.70 after the home goods retailer reports fiscal third-quarter results.

Japan's Nikkei stock average <.N225> lost 0.5 percent on Thursday, while European shares fell back from Wednesday's 15-month closing high as investors awaited the Bank of England's monthly interest rate decision.

The Dow and S&P 500 inched higher, while the Nasdaq dipped on Wednesday after Federal Reserve officials said they were still worried about labor market weakness and a report on the services sector showed only slight improvement in the economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 0.02 percent, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> inched up 0.05 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> dropped 0.3 percent.

(Reporting by Joanne Frearson; Editing by Greg Mahlich)