Stock Futures Tick Higher; Traders Eye Data, Retail Sales

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U.S. stock-index futures climbed on Thursday as traders mulled monthly sales results from major retailers, economic reports and the European Central Bank's policy decision.

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Today's Markets

As of 8:35 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures climbed 36 points to 13242, S&P 500 futures gained 4.5 points to 1402 and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 10.5 points to 2738.

The state of the world's biggest economies has taken the spotlight this week, with key data points released from the U.S., Europe and China. On the U.S. front, the reports have pointed to expansion across the manufacturing and labor markets, although the pace of gains has been called into question recently.

The weekly jobless claims report and a read on the services sector will shed some more light on the world's biggest economy with the highly anticipated monthly employment report looming just a day away.

The Labor Department said 365,000 people filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week, from 392,000 the week prior in the biggest drop since May 2011. Economists were expecting a drop to 380,000 from an initially reported 388,000. A separate report from consultants at Challenger, Gray & Christmas showed planned layoffs at U.S. companies climbed to 40,559 in April from 37,880 the month prior. The cuts were led by the education sector.

"Over time ... we expect the recent concerns about US growth to dissipate while euro area problems are not likely to go away quickly," Paul Robinson, an analyst at Barclays Capital, wrote in a note to clients.

Indeed, the situation in Europe has been less optimistic. The manufacturing sector in the eurozone is shrinking at an increasing gate, according to data released on Wednesday. Spain held its first bond auction since Standard & Poor's cut its debt rating by two notches last week. The country saw strong demand for its three-year and five-year bonds, but at the price of sharply higher yields. Analysts worry that Spain may struggle to cut its deficit and service its debts if its borrowing costs continue rising.

The European Central Bank said Thursday it is keeping its main refinancing rate unchanged at a record low of 1% as expected. The central bank is looking to keep the eurozone's struggling economy afloat, while also keeping inflation in check.

On the corporate front, many big-name retailers report their monthly sales on the day. Macy's (NYSE:M) saw its same-store sales rise 1.2% last month, weaker than the 1.9% that was expected. Target (NYSE:TGT) missed as well, posting an increase of 1.1%, compared to the forecast of 2.8%.

General Motors (NYSE:GM) posted first-quarter results that topped Wall Street's expectations on the top and bottom lines. Carlyle Group, the private-equity behemoth, also goes public on the Nasdaq Stock Market on the day after pricing its offering at $22 a share.

Commodities were mixed. Crude oil traded in New York fell 27 cents, or 0.26%, to $104.95 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline rose 0.21% to $3.08 a gallon.

In metals, gold fell $8.40, or 0.5%, to $1,646 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

European blue chips rallied 1.4%, the English FTSE 100 gained 0.58% to 5792 and the German DAX jumped 0.98% to 6777.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 climbed 0.31% to 9380 and the Chinese Hang Seng slipped 0.28% to 21249.

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