Futures Higher as Retail Posts Solid Same-Store Sales

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Stock futures were solidly higher for a second day in a row on Thursday as traders worked through weekly jobless claims data and the major retailers' same-store sales figures.

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As of 8:40 a.m. in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average futures were up 45 points to 11278, the S&P 500 futures were up 5.4 points to 1209.90 and the Nasdaq 100 futures were up 12.25 points to 2170.75.

The Labor Department said the number of people who filed for unemployment benefits last week rose by a more-than-expected 23,000 to 435,000 claims. Economists had been looking for weekly jobless claims to rise by a more modest 15,000 claims based on the most recent survey from Thomson Reuters.

The report comes a day before the release of the closely watched monthly jobs report, which is expected to show the U.S. economy created 130,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate remained stable at 9.6%.

The major retailers have been releasing their November same-store sales figures throughout the day, the first glimpse Wall Street has gotten into how this holiday season is proceeding.

Of the names to report so far, Costco (NASDAQ:COST), the giant warehouse retailer, posted a better-than-expected 9% rise in November sales from a year ago. Discount retailer Target (NYSE:TGT) said same-store sales rose 5.6% compared to a year ago, well ahead of analysts' expectations of a rise of 3.6%.

Macy's (NYSE:M) also reported its same store sales, posting a 6.1% in sales from a year ago. That figure was also ahead of analysts' expectations, who were looking for a 5% rise in sales from Macy's.

Overall, the retail picture has been so far decent in the first weeks of the crucial holiday shopping season, with most of the major retailers beating expectations.

U.S. investors are also reacting to the European Central Bank's regular policy announcement, in which the central bank held interest rates in the eurozone at a record low 1%. ECB President Jean Claude Trichet is expected to discuss the bank's plans to help resolve the continent's current sovereign debt crisis later today.

In commodities, oil was down 0.15% to $86.62 a barrel and gold was up 0.2% to $1,391.20 a troy ounce.

December traditionally is the most bullish month for stocks. According to market observer Ed Yardeni the S&P 500 has been up on average 1.8% over the past 64 years beating all other months of the year. And with the generally positive opinions about this year holiday shopping season, Yardeni said he expects a positive end to 2009's trading year.

Company News

General Motors (NYSE:GM) made a $4 billion contribution to its underfunded retirement pension plan, taking one step in addressing what many investors have said is GM's most daunting issue as a re-publicly traded company.

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