U.S. stock index futures signal early gains

PARIS, April 4 Thu Apr 4, 2013 10:33am BST

PARIS, April 4 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures pointed to a higher open on Wall Street on Thursday, with futures for the S&P 500 up 0.51 percent, Dow Jones up 0.43 percent and Nasdaq 100 up 0.44 percent at 0923 GMT.

* European stocks dipped in morning trade, adding to the previous session's sharp losses as grim data rattled investors ahead of the European Central Bank's interest rate decision and press briefing.

* Markit's Services PMI showed the euro zone's economic decline dragged on through March, marked by a huge drop in French business activity that outstripped downturns in Spain and Italy.

* Losses in European stocks were cushioned, however, by expectations that central banks around the world will stick with loose monetary policies, offering abundant liquidity to support the global economic recovery.

* The Bank of Japan shocked markets on Thursday with a radical overhaul of its policymaking, adopting a new balance sheet target and pledging to double its government bond holdings in two years as it seeks to end nearly two decades of deflation. The news sent the dollar climbing 2 percent against the yen.

* In Europe, investors awaited interest rate decisions from the ECB and the Bank of England. Both central banks are set to keep rates on hold, and investors will be looking for any signs that the ECB is preparing a cut in the coming months to help kickstart the euro zone economy.

* The Federal Reserve has room to keep buying bonds to support the U.S. economic recovery because inflation remains low, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said on Wednesday.

* On the economic front on Thursday, investors awaited weekly jobless claims, due at 1230 GMT. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a total of 350,000 new filings compared with 357,000 in the prior week.

* U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 index posting its biggest daily decline in more than a month, after a weaker-than-expected survey of private employers raised concerns about the strength of the economy.

* The Dow Jones industrial average was down 111.66 points, or 0.76 percent, at 14,550.35. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 16.56 points, or 1.05 percent, to 1,553.69. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 36.26 points, or 1.11 percent, at 3,218.60.