NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks were poised to open slightly higher following a report on jobless claims that came in higher than expected but remained below a key level.
The Dow Jones industrial average (), S&P 500 ( ) and Nasdaq ( ) futures were slightly higher. Stock futures indicate the possible direction of the markets when they open at 9:30 a.m. ET.
Jobless claims rose 15,000 to 381,000 in the latest week, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Analysts surveyed by Briefing.com had expected 368,000 claims.
But the figure remained below 400,000, giving investors hope that the labor market will strengthen in the new year.
Traders and analysts said low volume, typical of the holiday week, has led to more pronounced swings, and some of the moves are coming from year-end portfolio rebalancing rather than convictions over the trajectory of the market or particular stocks.
Stocks closed down more than 1% Wednesday, pushing the S&P back into negative territory for the year. The Nasdaq is down roughly 2% for 2011.
Despite Wednesday's sell-off, the Dow remains up 5% for 2011.
On Thursday, an auction of Italian 10-year bonds, which have seen yields continue to flirt with the 7% danger zone, provided muted results. While yields were reported below prior levels, demand was short.
Shares of BP () fell around 1% before the open following reports that employees could face criminal charges in relation to last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Economy: The National Association of Realtors will release the November installment of its Pending Home Sales Index. This figure, which measures signed sales contracts but not closed sales, is expected to have risen by 0.6% after shooting up 10.4% in October.
World markets: European stocks were flat following the Italian bond auction showing lack of demand . Britain's FTSE 100 ( ) added 0.3%, the DAX ( ) in Germany rose 0.3% and France's CAC 40 ( ) rose 0.3%.
Asian markets ended mixed. The Shanghai Composite () edged up 0.2%, the Hang Seng ( ) in Hong Kong fell 0.7% and Japan's Nikkei ( ) lost 0.3%.
Oil for February delivery rose 43 cents to $99.79 a barrel.
Gold futures for February delivery fell $25.90 to $1,538.20 an ounce.
Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury was flat, with the yield holding steady at 1.91% from late Wednesday.
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