* Initial claims, consumer confidence data on tap
* Washington to resume cliff talks
* Futures: Dow off 4 pts, S&P up 4.1 pts, Nasdaq up 7.5 pts
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, Dec 27 U.S. stock index futures edged
higher on Thursday, putting the S&P 500 on track to snap a
three-day skid, as U.S. President Barack Obama returned to
Washington to restart negotiations over the "fiscal cliff."
Obama cut short a Christmas holiday in Hawaii to fly back to
the capital and make another push for a deal between Democrats
and Republicans to head off devastating tax hikes and spending
cuts set to begin on Jan. 1.
In a sign of a possible way to break the deadlock in
Congress, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said if the
Democrat-controlled Senate were to pass a bill, the House would
at least consider it.
"As we've seen this year, the market really trades on the
last headline or the last sound bite that you get in spite of
fundamental indicators," said Keith Bliss, senior vice-president
at Cuttone & Co in New York.
"For this week, it's been all about when they are going to
have a conversation and what that conversation is going to be
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced the first of a
series of measures that should push back the government's debt
ceiling by around two months.
Economic data expected on Thursday includes weekly initial
jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. (1330 GMT). Economists in a Reuters
survey forecast a total of 360,000 new filings, compared with
361,000 filings in the previous week.
Also due at 8:30 a.m. (1330 GMT) is the Chicago Fed Midwest
Manufacturing Index for November.
Later in the session at 10 a.m. (1500 GMT), investors will
eye December consumer confidence and November new home sales
data. The Conference Board's main consumer confidence index is
expected to show a reading of 70 versus the 73.7 reported in
November while new home sales are expected to show a total of
378,000 annualized units.
The benchmark S&P 500 index has fallen 1.7 percent over the
past three sessions as negotiations over the budget crisis have
stalled, its longest losing streak since mid-November.
But the S&P has recouped nearly all of its declines suffered
in the wake of the U.S. elections and is up 12.9 percent for the
year, putting it on pace for its best year since 2009.
S&P 500 futures rose 2.4 points and were above fair
value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account
interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the
contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 4
points, and Nasdaq 100 futures gained 6.25 points.
Marvell Technology Group cut losses in premarket
trading after it said it would seek to overturn a jury's finding
of patent infringement. Marvell stock was down 3 percent at
$7.18. Shares had fallen earlier after a federal jury found the
company infringed two patents held by Carnegie Mellon University
and ordered the chipmaker to pay $1.17 billion in damages.
European shares edged higher on Thursday, with mining stocks
among the best performers, although concerns over the outcome of
U.S. budget talks prevented many investors from taking on big,
new equity positions.
Asian shares rose amid caution ahead of the U.S. fiscal
negotiations, while the yen hit a 21-month low against the
dollar on the prospect of drastic monetary easing and massive