U.S. stock futures signal flat open; data eyed

* U.S. stock index futures pointed to a flat open on Wall
Street on Thursday, with futures for the S&P 500 (SPc1: Quote, Profile, Research), for the
Dow Jones (DJc1: Quote, Profile, Research) and for the Nasdaq 100 (NDc1: Quote, Profile, Research) trading little
changed.

* The Labor Department releases first-time claims for
jobless benefits for the week ended April 2 at 1230 GMT.
Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a total of 385,000 new
filings compared with 388,000 in the previous week.

* General Electric (GE.N: Quote, Profile, Research) is set to announce on Thursday
that it will build America’s largest photovoltaic panel factory,
with the goal of becoming a major player in the market, the New
York Times reported. [ID:nL3E7F70J2]

* ICSC will release chain store sales for March versus a
year ago. In the previous month, sales rose 4.2 percent versus a
year earlier.

* Pharmaceutical company SuperGen Inc (SUPG.O: Quote, Profile, Research) plans to buy
privately-held biotechnology firm Astex Therapeutics Limited,
the companies said on Wednesday. [ID:nN06272023]

* Global investment bank Goldman Sachs Group (GS.N: Quote, Profile, Research) is
seeking to buy the 55 percent of its Australian and New Zealand
joint venture that it does not already own, the company said in
a statement on Thursday. [ID:nL3E7F63F1]

* Bed Bath and Beyond Inc (BBBY.O: Quote, Profile, Research) shares jumped 6.3 percent
late on Wednesday after the company reported its results.

* The European Central Bank is poised to raise interest
rates from a record low 1.0 percent on Thursday, with more hikes
likely to follow. However, fearful of heaping more pain on the
euro zone’s stragglers, the ECB is expected to give few clues
about when the next move will come. [ID:nLDE7351QH]

* The Bank of England is almost certain to ignore criticism
that it has gone soft on inflation and leave interest rates at a
record low on Thursday due to uncertainty about the strength of
Britain’s fragile recovery. [ID:nLDE7352AQ]

* Portugal’s financial sector can expect some relief after
the caretaker government decided to seek financial aid after
months of what many economists said was a refusal to acknowledge
economic reality. [ID:nLDE7352EI]

* Brent crude (LCOc1: Quote, Profile, Research) fell after five straight days of
gains, slipping below $122 a barrel on concern that rising
prices will hurt demand from the world’s top oil consumers the
United States and China.

* Japan’s Nikkei average (.N225: Quote, Profile, Research) closed 0.1 percent higher
on Thursday, while the FTSEurofirst 300 (.FTEU3: Quote, Profile, Research) index of top
European shares was up 0.3 percent, led higher by financials
after Portugal said it would seek financial aid.

* On Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI: Quote, Profile, Research) rose
32.85 points, or 0.27 percent, to close at 12,426.75. The
Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (.SPX: Quote, Profile, Research) gained 2.91 points, or 0.22
percent, to 1,335.54. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC: Quote, Profile, Research)
advanced 8.63 points, or 0.31 percent, to 2,799.82.
(Reporting by Atul Prakash; Editing by Hans Peters)

U.S. stock futures signal flat open; data eyed