* ECB rate decision, U.S. initial claims on tap
* Retailers to post monthly sales
* Futures up: Dow 25 pts, S&P 2.7 pts, Nasdaq 3.25 pts
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, Feb 7 U.S. stock index futures
advanced on Thursday, indicating the S&P 500 may rise for a
third straight session ahead of a European Central Bank rate
decision and data on the U.S. labor market.
The central bank is expected to keep rates unchanged, and
the market will give more attention to comments from ECB
President Mario Draghi, who will give his views on the region's
growth prospects and faces tough questions over the euro's sharp
rise and his connection to an Italian banking scandal.
"The ECB will come out and talk about how they are going to
have buying programs and all that stuff but this is a danger
point for U.S. investors because sometimes traders do pay
attention to the woes of Europe," said Kim Forrest, senior
equity research analyst, Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.
Economic data due at 8:30 a.m. (1330 GMT) includes weekly
jobless claims and preliminary fourth quarter productivity and
unit labor costs. Initial claims are expected at 360,000
compared with 368,000 in the prior week. Estimates call for a
1.3 percent fall in productivity while unit labor costs are
expected to rise 3.0 percent.
"The unemployment information, it has been interesting how
much it's dropped off, but we could have a slowdown in firing,
but that doesn't necessarily mean an uptick in hiring."
Recent data has pointed to a modest improvement in the
economy, but one without enough strength to cause the Federal
Reserve to back off its easy monetary policy, helping the
benchmark S&P index climb 6 percent for the year.
S&P 500 futures rose 2.7 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 gained 25
points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 3.25 points.
Visa Inc's quarterly profit beat analysts' estimates
for the ninth consecutive quarter as credit, debit and
transactions grew at the world's largest payments network.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc stumbled 7.2
percent to $45.43 in premarket after forecasting sales growth
for the current quarter that was slightly lower than analysts
According to Thomson Reuters data through Wednesday morning,
of 301 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings,
68.1 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62
percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four
quarters. In terms of revenue, 65.8 percent of companies have
Looking ahead, fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies
are now expected to grow 4.7 percent, according to the data,
above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings
Retailers will also be eyed as they report monthly sales
results. Costco Wholesale Corp posted a 4 percent rise
in comparable sales in January, marginally above analysts
estimates, despite the largest U.S. warehouse operator having
one less sales day in the reporting period.
European shares were little changed after sharp falls the
previous day, with any recovery capped by mixed earnings and
concerns about economic and political developments in the euro
Asian shares and the euro paused from recent gains as
investors awaited the European Central Bank's policy meeting
later in the day and Draghi's view on euro zone growth