U.S. stock index futures signal early gains

PARIS Thu Dec 6, 2012 5:42am EST

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PARIS Dec 6 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures pointed to a higher open on Wall Street on Thursday, with futures for the S&P 500 up 0.1 percent, Dow Jones futures up 0.2 percent and Nasdaq 100 futures up 0.1 percent at 1020 GMT.

* European stocks were up on Thursday morning, with a number of benchmark indexes hitting their highs for the year, boosted by hopes a U.S. budget deal will be reached before the year-end and that the worst of Europe's debt crisis might be over.

* Investors will keep a close eye on the European Central Bank on Thursday, which is expected to keep interest rates on hold but may offer clues on its policy path for next year with updated forecasts likely to present a grim outlook for the euro zone economy in 2013.

* Chevron Corp added $15 billion to the cost of the Gorgon liquefied natural gas (LNG) export complex, as the U.S. oil company's largest single development joins a growing list of Australian LNG projects to run over budget.

* U.S. securities regulators charged a Wells Fargo investment banker and nine others with fraud on Wednesday in connection with their alleged role in an insider-trading ring that earned more than $11 million by trading on tips about impending mergers.

* CME Group Inc, the biggest operator of U.S. futures exchanges, on Wednesday joined a number of companies moving 2013 dividend payouts to this month to shield shareholders from expected tax increases.

* Starbucks Corp plans to increase the number of its cafes in the Americas by more than 20 percent by opening more than 3,000 new shops there in the next five years as it looks to rely on tea and juice as much as coffee, it said on Wednesday.

* Apple Inc's rank in China's smartphone market, which is set to become the world's largest this year, fell to No.6 in the third quarter as it faces tougher competition from Chinese brands, research firm IDC said on Thursday.

* Research In Motion outlined a step-by-step program on Thursday to help its large base of enterprise clients transition across to its soon to be launched new BlackBerry 10 platform.

* U.S. tax preparer H&R Block Inc reported a lower quarterly loss, helped by higher savings from cost reduction measures aimed at narrowing its focus to its core tax business.

* On the macro front, investors awaited weekly jobless claims, due at 1330 GMT. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a total of 380,000 new filings compared with 393,000 in the prior week.

* A volatile trading session ended with U.S. stocks mostly higher on Wednesday, even as Apple, the most valuable company in the United States, suffered its worst day of losses in almost four years.

In a strange occurrence, Apple accounted for the entirety of the Nasdaq 100's fall of 1.1 percent, while the Dow industrials - which do not include Apple as a component - enjoyed the best day since Nov. 28.

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