US Stocks Head for Higher Open

NEW YORK - U.S. stocks were poised to open higher Thursday after a reading on the economy showed personal spending rose more than expected in the fourth quarter. Weekly claims for unemployment benefits also fell.

The Commerce Department's gross domestic product reading showed the economy grew at 0.6 percent annual pace in the final quarter last year unchanged with an estimate a month ago. Consumers increased buying at a 2.3 percent pace, which was ahead of the 1.9 percent growth rate that had been estimated.

The Labor Department said the number of workers seeking unemployment benefits fell last week fell by a seasonally adjusted 9,000 to 366,000. That was better than the 371,000 that many economists had predicted.

The figures arrived as Wall Street is still trying to determine how well the economy is holding up under strains including tightness in the credit markets, a weak housing sector and nervous consumers who have cut back spending.

Investors also eyed oil prices, which were moving higher after an attack on a key oil pipeline in Iraq.

Wall Street will also be examining comments from Federal Reserve officials for insights into how the economy, and specifically the financial sector, are faring. Several Fed officials are slated to speak Thursday.

Stock futures, which had given up most of their gains ahead of the GDP and jobs reports, moved to fresh highs for the day after the reports' arrival.

Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 92, or 0.74 percent, to 12,475. Standard & Poor's 500 index futures advanced 11.80, or 0.88 percent, to 1,347.20. Nasdaq 100 index futures rose 6.20, or 0.34 percent, to 1,816.50. Stocks declined Wednesday — essentially the first losses in four sessions — amid unease about the economy.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.54 percent from 3.46 percent late Wednesday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Light, sweet crude rose 47 cents to $106.37 in premarket electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In corporate news, business software maker Oracle Corp. reported fiscal third-quarter earnings that met Wall Street's estimates but sales figures that fell well short of analysts' projections.

ConAgra Foods Inc. said it struck a deal to sell its commodity trading and merchandising operations to an investment group for about $2.1 billion.

Lennar Corp. said it swung to a loss in the first quarter as it faced charges to write down asset values and as the homebuilder saw sales and prices sink in a difficult real estate market.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average closed down 0.80 percent. In morning trading, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.75 percent, Germany's DAX index advanced 1.01 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 0.57 percent.

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