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Stock Futures Rise as Jobless Claims Dip

Tickers in this article: ALU BA CS NWSA SNE V YELP ^DJI ^GSPC ^IXIC

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stock futures were rising Thursday as weekly initial jobless claims dipped slightly from the prior week, and the European Central Bank left rates unchanged.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 3 points, or 0.02%, at 13,931. Futures for the S&P 500 were adding 2 points, or 0.10%, to 1508. Nasdaq futures were tacking on 9 points, or 0.32% with a fair value of 2746.

The Labor Department said initial jobless claims for the week of Jan. 26 printed at 366,000, down 5,000 from the prior week's claims. The four-week moving average was 350,000, down 2,250 from the previous tally. Economists expected claims to print at about 360,000.

Investors have continued to monitor initial jobless claims and other labor market indicators as the Federal Reserve has closely pegged its policy of low interest rates to a target 6.5% unemployment rate. Anything that hits that threshold, the central bank has said, would trigger the Fed to begin raising interest rates. It has also said it would make such a move if inflation rose to at least 2.5%.

Chicago Fed Reserve President Charles Evans spoke Thursday morning in an interview with CNBC and said that quantitative easing may need to continue for the whole year. Evans said he was optimistic that economic momentum would pick up in 2013. Evans has been one of the biggest policy-making supporters for the Fed's unemployment rate target. His comments could also send waves through markets as traders continue to determine whether the Fed will stick with its highly accommodative monetary policy for the long term.

Stocks closed mixed on Wednesday following a huge rally on the Nikkei in Japan as concerns over political strife in Spain and Italy weighed on investors' outlook for economic stability in the eurozone.

The Labor Department reported nonfarm business productivity dipped 1.3% in the fourth quarter of 2012. The number was higher than the 1.3% decrease a consensus among economists had expected. The report comes a week after a surprise 0.1% contraction in gross domestic product that was reported last Wednesday.

The FTSE 100 in London was shedding 0.36%, but the DAX in Germany was climbing 0.58% ahead of the ECB's policy announcement.

ECB President Mario Draghi kept interest rates unchanged at near-zero historic lows. Investors initially appeared calmed by Draghi's words as Spain and Italy worries re-emerge. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is looking to reclaim his post as the country's leader, which could frighten markets that are concerned what his re-emergence would mean for Italy's relationship with the ECB.

Spain also found itself in a precarious position as the opposition Socialist Party earlier this week called on its prime minister to step down on corruption allegations.