Stock Futures Rise On Bright Retail Reports

By Salon Staff

Published March 1, 2012 2:00PM (EST)

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stock futures rose slightly Thursday as retailers reported better-than-expected February sales and the government reported weekly unemployment benefit applications fell to a four-year low.

Futures for the Dow Jones industrial average rose 29 points to 12,966. Standard & Poor's 500 index futures inched up 3 points to 1,367. And futures on the tech-heavy Nasdaq, which on Wednesday briefly topped 3,000 for the first time in more than a decade, gained 11 points to 2,634.

Most markets overseas are higher as well.

The U.S. job market showed more signs of improvement on Thursday as the government reported the number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell slightly last week to the lowest point in four years.

A seasonally adjusted 351,000 people sought unemployment aid, down from a revised 353,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said. That matches the four-year low reached three weeks ago. It's the fewest since March 2008. A four-week average of claims also fell last week, to 354,000. That's also the lowest figure in four years.

The government also reported that consumers earned a little more in January and spent most of the extra money. The gains should keep the economy growing at a modest pace.

The Commerce Department said consumer spending increased 0.2 percent in January. There was no change in December. Americans' income rose 0.3 percent, the second straight monthly increase.

Americans spent some of that money and malls and big box stores.

Retailers including Costco Wholesale Corp. and Target Corp. reported better than expected February sales as traffic increased and customers spent more on their visits.

Target said sales at stores open at least a year rose 7 percent last month — more than analysts or the chain itself expected. For Costco, that metric climbed 8 percent in the U.S. and overseas. Costco also said Wednesday its fiscal second-quarter profit that topped Wall Street expectations as the company's low prices continued to attract customers and drive sales.

Macy's Inc., Limited Brands Inc. and teen retailer The Buckle all reported sales gains that beat Wall Street estimates.

In other economic news, February auto sales being reported Thursday are expected to hit over 14 million for the second month in a row while a key manufacturing index is expected to hit the highest reading since June.

Salon Staff

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