Stock index futures edged higher on Thursday, putting the S&P 500 on track to snap a three-day skid, as U.S. President Barack Obama returned to Washington to restart negotiations over the "fiscal cliff."
Obama cut short a Christmas holiday in Hawaii to fly back to the capital and make another push for a deal between Democrats and Republicans to head off devastating tax hikes and spending cuts set to begin on January 1.
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In a sign of a possible way to break the deadlock in Congress, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said if the Democrat-controlled Senate were to pass a bill, the House would at least consider it.
"As we've seen this year, the market really trades on the last headline or the last sound bite that you get in spite of fundamental indicators," said Keith Bliss, senior vice-president at Cuttone & Co in New York.
"For this week, it's been all about when they are going to have a conversation and what that conversation is going to be like."
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced the first of a series of measures that should push back the government's debt ceiling by around two months.
Economic data expected on Thursday includes weekly initial jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a total of 360,000 new filings, compared with 361,000 filings in the previous week.
Also due at 8:30 a.m. is the Chicago Fed Midwest Manufacturing Index for November.
Later in the session at 10 a.m., investors will eye December consumer confidence and November new home sales data. The Conference Board's main consumer confidence index is expected to show a reading of 70 versus the 73.7 reported in November while new home sales are expected to show a total of 378,000 annualized units.
The benchmark S&P 500 index has fallen 1.7 percent over the past three sessions as negotiations over the budget crisis have stalled, its longest losing streak since mid-November.
But the S&P has recouped nearly all of its declines suffered in the wake of the U.S. elections and is up 12.9 percent for the year, putting it on pace for its best year since 2009.
S&P 500 futures rose 2.4 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 fell 4 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures gained 6.25 points.
Marvell Technology Group cut losses in premarket trading after it said it would seek to overturn a jury's finding of patent infringement. Marvell stock was down 3 percent at $7.18. Shares had fallen earlier after a federal jury found the company infringed two patents held by Carnegie Mellon University and ordered the chipmaker to pay $1.17 billion in damages.
European shares edged higher on Thursday, with mining stocks among the best performers, although concerns over the outcome of U.S. budget talks prevented many investors from taking on big, new equity positions.
Asian shares rose amid caution ahead of the U.S. fiscal negotiations, while the yen hit a 21-month low against the dollar on the prospect of drastic monetary easing and massive state spending.
(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Kenneth Barry)