Stock Futures Rise as Traders Weigh Retail Sales, Data

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Stock-index futures signaled U.S. markets may kick off the month on a high note following the best February in 14 years as traders responded to strong sales results from many big-name retailers and parsed through a slew of economic data.

Today's Markets

As of 8:47 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures rose 30 points to 12967, S&P 500 futures gained 3.3 points to 1368 and Nasdaq 100 futures climbed 10.5 points to 2634.

The broad S&P 500 closed out February on a three-month winning streak, having rallied 9.5% over the period. Market participants have reacted to data pointing to continued improvement in the U.S. economy, lessening headwinds from Europe's debt crisis and corporate earnings. The markets have also been resilient to headlines that have, in previous months, sometimes roiled Wall Street.

Target (NYSE:TGT) unveiled an increase of 7% that beat estimates of 5.2%. Macy's (NYSE:M) jump of 4.6% topped expectations of a gain of 3.5%. Gap (NYSE:GPS) also revealed a big beat, with comparable sales rising 4% against forecasts of a 1% drop. Separately, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), which doesn't report its sales results on the day, said it plans on boosting its dividend by 9%.

Automakers also release their sales figures for the month of February on the day. Chrysler said its sales soared 40% on a year-over-year basis in its best February since 2008. Ford (NYSE:F) and General Motors (NYSE:GM), the other components of the America's Big Three, are set to release later in the day.

The economic docket is quite full on the day, with reports from both sides of the Atlantic.

The Labor Department reported initial filings for state unemployment benefits ticked lower to 351,000 last week from 353,000, which was in-line with estimates. The Commerce Department reports personal income rose 0.3% in January on a month-to-month basis, while spending increased 0.2%, just below analysts' expectations.

The Institute for Supply Management is set to release its closely-followed reading on the manufacturing sector later in the morning. Activity across that portion of the economy is expected to have ticked up just slightly in February. Separately, spending on construction is anticipated to have pushed higher by 1%.

The jobless rate in the eurozone unexpectedly lurched to a euro-era high of 10.7% in January  from an upwardly-revised December reading of 10.6%. Economists expected the rate in the 17-member currency bloc to hold steady at an initially reported 10.4%. Meanwhile, inflation was largely unchanged, which may mean the European Central Bank will have more room to maneuver monetary policy to boost the economy there.

Also on the European front, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association ruled that Greece's bailout has not yet constituted a default that would trigger credit default swaps, according to Reuters. The potential triggering of those agreements was a major worry for many analysts since it could have hit the continent's already fragile financial system.

The euro fell 0.11% to $1.331, while the U.S. dollar slipped 0.01% against a basket of six world currencies that are tracked by the dollar index.

After a very volatile day across commodities markets in the prior session, futures moved up modestly on Thursday. The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York climbed 2 cents, or 0.01%, to $107.07 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor RBOB gasoline gained 0.07% to $3.042 a gallon.

Gold, which plunged $77.10, or 4.3% in the last session, rebounded by $1.90 to $1,714 a troy ounce. U.S. Treasury bond yields pushed higher slightly, with the 10-year rate hitting 2.023% from 1.974%.

Foreign Markets

European blue chips jumped 0.84% to 2533, the English FTSE 100 gained 0.68% to 5912 and the German DAX climbed 0.72% to 6905.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 fell 0.16% to 9707 and the Chinese Hang Seng sold off by 1.4% to 21388.