Strong Economic Data Boost Stock Futures

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A round of considerably better-than-expected data on the U.S. housing and labor markets sent stock futures solidly into the green on Thursday.

Today's Markets

As of 8:37 am. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures rose 40 points to 13476, S&P 500 futures climbed 6.3 points to 1472 and Nasdaq 100 futures gained 13.5 points to 2740.

The Labor Department said new claims for U.S. unemployment benefits fell to 335,000 last week -- the lowest level since January 2008 -- from an upwardly revised 372,000 the week prior. Claims were expected to fall to 365,000 from an initially reported 371,000.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said U.S. housing starts jumped 12.1% in December from November to an annualized 954,000-unit rate, the highest rate since June 2008. Permits rose 0.3% to an annualized rate of 903,000 units.

Boeing (NYSE:BA), the blue-chip plane maker, has captured headlines as worries have swelled about its 787 Dreamliner aircraft. In the latest setback, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered carriers flying U.S.-registered 787s to temporarily halt using the plane until they can demonstrate the onboard batteries are safe. Shares pointed down another 2%.

Earnings season also began kicking into high gear. Ahead of the opening bell, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), UnitedHealth (NYSE:UNH) and Citigroup (NYSE:C) reported fourth-quarter earnings.

BofA, the second-biggest U.S. bank by assets, saw its net income shrink $700 billion from $2 billion the year prior. Its per-share earnings of 3 cents topped expectations by a penny, but its revenues of $19.61 billion came in shy of the $21.11 billion analysts forecast.

UnitedHealth, the biggest U.S. health insurer, said it earned $1.20 a share on revenues of $28.8 billion, topping estimates of $1.19 per share on $28.2 billion.

Citi posted an adjusted fourth-quarter profit of 69 cents per share, which was short of the 96 cents analysts forecast. Adjusted revenues of $18.7 billion also missed expectations of $18.8 billion.

Energy futures climbed modestly. The benchmark oil contract rose 51 cents, or 0.55%, to $94.76 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline edged up by 0.32% to $2.73 a gallon. In metals, gold slumped $1.30, or 0.08%, to $1,682 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 rose 0.43% to 2714, the English FTSE 100 climbed 0.16% to 6114 and the German DAX was flat at 7691.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 gained 0.09% to 10610 and the Chinese Hang Seng fell 0.07% to 23340.