US STOCKS-Wall St set for higher open but optimism limited

* U.S. jobless claims fall as forecast

* Feb durable good orders drop unexpectedly

* Best Buy profit tops estimates; stock up 3.3 pct

* Futures gain: S&P 7.6 pts, Dow 59 pts, Nasdaq 17 pts

* For up-to-the-minute market news see [STXNEWS/US]
(Updates with jobless claims data)

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK, March 24 (Reuters) – Wall Street was poised for a
higher open on Thursday with retail stocks in focus after Best
Buy reported higher-than-expected profit, but light trading
volume suggested the optimism was limited.

With the quarter-end approaching, portfolio managers will
be buyers as they execute some window dressing, and hedge funds
will cover short positions that are under pressure.

“We are at the quarter end, and the fact that we’ve had a
good earnings season, continued expansion of the economy and
also relatively cheap valuation (in stocks) looking forward is
helping the market,” said Peter Kenny, managing director at
Knight Equity Markets in New Jersey.

Futures slipped slightly after data showed durable goods
orders unexpectedly fell in February, hinting at decelerating
manufacturing activity. But new U.S. jobless claims declined as
forecast, with the four-week moving average dropping to it
lowest level in more than 2-1/2 years. For details, see
[ID:nN24115372]

“We’ve started hitting these ranges in jobless claims. We
need to see it come down further. When the number is stalled,
it doesn’t do anything for anyone, even if it is better than
expected,” said Dan Cook, senior market analyst at IG Markets
in Chicago.

Best Buy Co Inc (BBY.N: Quote, Profile, Research) reported higher-than-expected
quarterly earnings as strength in its mobile business offset
weak demand for televisions and entertainment software during
the all-important holiday season. The stock rose 3.3 percent at
$32.90 in premarket trade. [ID:nN23303343]

S&P 500 futures (SPc1: Quote, Profile, Research) rose 7.6 points, off earlier highs,
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 (DJc1: Quote, Profile, Research) added 59 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures (NDc1: Quote, Profile, Research)
rose 17 points.
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The S&P 500 will finish the year with double-digit gains,
unfazed by Japan’s nuclear crisis or unrest in the Middle East
and North Africa, a Reuters poll found. For details, see
[ID:nN22164148]
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Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates resigned and warned
of grave consequences for the country after parliament rejected
his government’s latest austerity measures aimed at avoiding a
bailout. The resignation increased expectations Lisbon will
seek international aid. It also threw into disarray a European
Union summit later this week expected to address the region’s
debt crisis. [ID:nLDE72N0AM]

Western warplanes hit Libya for a fifth night, but have
failed to stop Muammar Gaddafi’s tanks from shelling rebel-held
towns. [ID:nLDE72N006]

Stores in Tokyo were running out of bottled water after
radiation from a damaged nuclear complex briefly made tap water
unsafe for babies, while more nations curbed imports of
Japanese food. [ID:nL3E7EN3MI]
(Reporting by Angela Moon; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

US STOCKS-Wall St set for higher open but optimism limited