Wall Street Looks to Hold Record Highs

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U.S. stock-index futures were little changed Thursday, suggesting the Dow and S&P 500 may open near record highs, as traders mulled upbeat data on the labor market.

Today's Markets

As of 8:40 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures climbed 13 points to 14746, S&P 500 futures gained 1.3 points to 1584 and Nasdaq 100 futures fell 5.8 points to 2848.

Wall Street is on a roll.

The Dow logged its thirteenth record close of the year on Wednesday, while the broader, and generally more closely watched, S&P took out its all-time intraday high it hit in 2007. The move came as the Federal Reserve signaled it would keep up the pace of its asset-purchase program for now -- although it hinted that it could begin tapering as soon as this year.

Meanwhile, the markets have cheered news that the Bank of Japan will do whatever it takes to boost inflation to a year-to-year pace of 2% in a bid to escape its decades long deflation trap. The measures include a massive bond-buying program that has sent the yen plunging to four-year lows against the U.S. dollar.

The focus was expected on the American jobs market on the day. The Labor Department reports new claims for unemployment benefits fell to 346,000 last week from an upwardly-revised 388,000 the week prior. Claims were expected to fall to 365,000 from an initially reported 385,000. Labor said the plunge was partly attributable to seasonal factors.

Economists are paying especially close attention to the weekly readings after the March jobs report showed much weaker-than-expected payroll growth, in a sign the economic recovery could be losing steam.

The Commerce Department said U.S. import prices dropped 0.5% in March from February, in line with expectations. Export prices dropped 0.4% for the month, compared to expectations of a 0.1% rise.

In corporate news, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) shares were under pressure on news reports Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) cut the blue-chip stock to "sell" from "neutral." Yum Brands (NYSE:YUM) also fell sharply after the owner of KFC and Taco Bell warned that bird flu jitters in China could impact its bottom line.

Elsewhere, oil and gasoline futures were little changed. The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York fell 14 cents, or 0.15%, to $94.50 a barrel. Wholesale New York Haboar gasoline rose 0.13% to $2.869 a gallon. In metals, gold climbed $1.10, or 0.07%, to $1,560 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 rose 0.21% to 2668, the English FTSE 100 gained 0.33% to 6409 and the German DAX advanced 0.52% to 7851.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 surged 2% to 13549 and the Chinese Hang Seng edged up 0.3% to 22101.