Stocks poised to open higher

By staff

NEW YORK ( -- U.S. stock futures rose Thursday after the government said the number of Americans filing for first-time claims for jobless benefits matched a 19-month low.

Dow Jones industrial average, S&P 500, and Nasdaq 100 futures were higher.

Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance and offer an indication of how markets may open when trading begins.

Stocks ended slightly lower Wednesday, pressured by disappointing reports showing that private-sector employers continued to cut jobs in March and manufacturing activity slipped.

Despite Wednesday's losses, stocks finished the quarter with gains. The Dow climbed 4.1% over the first three months of the year, while the S&P added 4.9% for the quarter. The Nasdaq had the strongest quarterly showing, up 5.7%.

Government figures from both China and the United Kingdom showed that manufacturing activity rose more than expected during March. The reports raised optimism that the global economy will continue its gradual recovery, said Peter Cardillo, chief market strategist at Avalon Partners.

"Some of the news on the global economy today was quite encouraging," said Cardillo. "That helped out the global markets and we're appear to be following."

Economy: The number of Americans filing for unemployment insurance for the first time fell last week, matching the lowest level since August 2008, the Labor Department said.

There were 439,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended March 27, down 6,000 from an upwardly revised 445,000 the previous week. Economists surveyed by expected new claims to dip to 440,000 in the week.

Separately, a report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. showed that planned job cuts accelerated in March.

Employers announced plans to cut 67,611 jobs in March, Challenger said. That's up 61% from February, when 42,090 jobs were lost, the lowest level in nearly four years.

The government's weekly report on initial and continuing jobless claims is due before the opening bell. Economists surveyed by expect that claims fell last week to 440,000 from 442,000 in the previous week.

February construction spending from the Census Bureau is due out after the start of trading. Spending is expected to have fallen 1% after falling 0.6% in January.

The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index, due at 10 a.m. ET, is expected to have risen to 57 in March from 56.5 in February, signaling further expansion in the sector.

March auto and truck sales are due later in the day.

Companies: Research in Motion posted a fiscal fourth-quarter profit and revenue that missed Wall Street expectations, but the BlackBerry maker's forecast for the current quarter easily topped analysts' estimates.

Shares of RIM (RIMM) plunged 5% in after-hours trading.

World markets: Asian stocks finished higher after China's manufacturing report. Japan's Nikkei index and Hong Kong's Hang Seng both rose about 1.4%.

In Europe, London's FTSE 100, France's CAC 40 and Germany's DAX gained in the early going.

The dollar and commodities: The dollar edged up against the yen and the euro, but fell versus the pound.

U.S. light crude oil for May delivery rallied 62 cents to $84.37 a barrel. The price of gold for June delivery added $9.60 an ounce to $1,124.

Bonds: Treasury prices rose, with the 10-year yield rising to 3.85%. Bond prices and yields move in opposite directions. To top of page

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