Stocks: Investors play the waiting game

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Investors head into Thursday taking in new government jobless claims data and the latest round of corporate results.

The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment insurance fell by 27,000 to 341,000 in the latest week, the Labor Department reported.

In earnings news, General Motors (GM) released quarterly results that missed expectations, sending shares slightly lower in premarket trading. PepsiCo (PEP) logged better-than-expected earnings, and shares edged 2% higher.

As of Wednesday, 65% of the companies in the S&P 500 that had reported fourth-quarter earnings came in ahead of analysts' expectations, according to S&P Capital IQ. But the bulk of companies that have issued guidance for the first quarter had a negative outlook.

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U.S. stock futures were lower ahead of the open.

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) and 3G Capital have agreed to buy Heinz (HNZ) for $28 billion. Shares of the ketchup-maker spiked 17%.

US Airways (LCC) and American Airlines parent AMR (AAMRQ) officially announced an $11 billion deal to create the world's largest airline. Shares of US Airways rose more than 1%.

Carnival stock: Abandon ship!
Carnival stock: Abandon ship!

Shares of Constellation Brands (STZ) surged in premarket trading after Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) agreed to give up key assets in an effort to address antitrust issues related to is proposed takeover of Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo.

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Cisco (CSCO) shares fell 2% in premarket trading, after Cisco CEO John Chambers took a cautious tone with his outlook as the company reported earnings roughly in line with forecasts. Shares of Mondelez (MDLZ) sank 5% after the food producer logged earnings that missed expectations after the close on Wednesday.

U.S. stocks finished mixed Wednesday, struggling to find momentum to push toward record highs.

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European markets drifted lower in morning trading, after weaker-than-expected GDP figures from Germany and France pointed to a deepening recession in the eurozone.

Asian markets ended higher. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.9% as traders returned from an extended holiday.

The Nikkei added 0.5% despite data showing Japan's economy has contracted in each of the three most recent quarters. The weak performance is likely to increase the clamor for more aggressive fiscal and monetary stimulus measures.

The Shanghai exchange was closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

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