Stock futures inch up; chain store sales eyed

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stock index futures pointed to a slightly higher open on Wall Street on Thursday following the previous session's sharp losses, with futures for the S&P 500 up 0.05 percent, Dow Jones futures up 0.09 percent and Nasdaq 100 futures up 0.13 percent at 3:45 a.m. EDT.

Investors awaited U.S. weekly jobless claims, due at 8:30 a.m. EDT, factory orders at 10 a.m. EDT as well as chain store sales for last month. Sales from retailers are expected to show how higher gasoline prices have crimped consumer demand for summer clothing and other discretionary items.

The high unemployment rate means the Fed's ultra-easy money policies remain the right course of action, top Federal Reserve officials said on Wednesday. High unemployment is not a "quickly resolvable problem," but April's job gains show that the economic recovery is on a firmer footing, Cleveland Fed President Sandra Pianalto said.

The dollar stuck near a one-month low against a basket of currencies and hovered near a record low versus the Swiss franc on Thursday, after more weak U.S. data suggested that the U.S. economy's soft patch may become protracted.

Suspected Chinese hackers tried to steal the passwords of hundreds of Google <GOOG.O> email account holders, including those of senior U.S. government officials, Chinese activists and journalists, the Internet company said.

China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday said it "cannot accept" accusations that hackers likely based in China tried to break into hundreds of Google mail accounts.

Private equity firm Gores Group is in talks to buy more than half of bankrupt bookseller Borders Group Inc's <BGPIQ.PK> remaining stores, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

Starbucks Corp <SBUX.O> said it signed an agreement with its joint venture partner in South China, Maxim's Caterers Ltd that gives the world's largest coffee chain full control of more than half of its retail stores in mainland China.

Citigroup Inc <C.N> shut down a $400 million hedge fund that used the bank's money and mathematical models to bet on stocks, in the wake of new regulations aimed at stopping proprietary trading, Bloomberg reported, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O> showed off a version of its next operating system at technology conferences in the United States and Taipei, as some PC makers grumbled over restrictions on their involvement in the development of the system.

European stocks were down around 1 percent in morning trade, dropping for a second straight session, hit by the latest string of poor U.S. macro data and after Moody's cut Greece's credit rating by three notches. The credit rating agency cited a growing risk that the government will fail to stabilize its debt position without a debt restructuring.

Moody's downgrade has moved Greece's ratings to the extremely speculative level of "Caa1," seven notches into junk territory, from the previous level of B1.

Wall Street ended a four-day rally with its worst session since August on Wednesday and could suffer more losses in coming days as investors are faced with more signs the economic recovery is fading.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 279.42 points, or 2.22 percent, at 12,290.37. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 30.66 points, or 2.28 percent, at 1,314.54. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was down 66.11 points, or 2.33 percent, at 2,769.19.

(Reporting by Blaise Robinson. Editing by Jane Merriman)