US STOCKS-Futures imply higher open on supportive central banks

Thu Apr 4, 2013 8:53am EDT

* BOJ action and U.S. officials' remarks support market

* Jobless claims disappoint, following private sector report

* Defense shares may be in focus on North Korea uncertainty

* Futures up: Dow 13 pts, S&P 1.7 pts, Nasdaq 11.25 pts

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, April 4 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures pointed to slight gains at the open on Thursday as aggressive action by the Bank of Japan and supportive comments by U.S. officials indicated continued support for the market.

Futures trimmed some of their earlier gains following an unexpected jump in jobless claims to four-month highs, the latest in a series of data points to disappoint and raise questions about growth and the labor market's recovery.

The Bank of Japan shocked markets with a radical overhaul of its monetary policy, adopting a new balance sheet target and pledging to double its government bond holdings in two years.

Japanese shares soared 2.2 percent while the iShares MSCI Japan Index ETF jumped 3.9 percent to $10.88 in premarket trading. U.S. shares of Toyota Motor rose 3.6 percent to $104.50.

"The sweeping policy changes from Japan are helping to give us a little bit of a bid," said Art Hogan, managing director of Lazard Capital Markets in New York.

On Wednesday, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said the Fed had room to keep buying bonds to support the U.S. economic recovery. Earlier Thursday, Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, suggested the Fed's program would continue for at least a few more months.

Jobless claims jumped to 385,000 in the latest week, confounding expectations that claims would drop by 7,000 to 350,000.

The data follows Wednesday's weaker-than-expected read on private sector employment, and spurred concerns that Friday's jobs report could also point to weakness in the economy. That report is seen showing 200,000 jobs added in March, down from the previous month.

"We've had several pieces of data in a row that were weak, which suggests a market with more headwinds than tailwinds," Hogan said. "If Friday's report is better than expected, then the sentiment could turn back into positive territory, but if it is confirmation that things are softening, that could be the beginning of a pullback."

S&P 500 futures rose 1.7 point 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 added 13 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 11.25 points.

The rise in futures wasn't enough to indicate that the benchmark S&P 500 would reach a new all-time intraday peak at the open. The index has struggled to reach its record 1,576.09 level, currently about 1.4 percent away.

Wall Street has advanced almost 9 percent this year, partially fueled by a supportive environment from central banks around the world, a trend investors expect to continue.

Investors have used market declines as buying opportunities, and if that continues, energy shares could be among the most active on Thursday as they rebound from a steep decline in the previous session.

Many market participants see limited upside potential ahead of Friday's payroll report, with the upcoming earnings season viewed as another potential catalyst.

First-quarter earnings forecasts have been lowered since the start of the year, with S&P 500 company earnings expected to have risen 1.6 percent compared with a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data. A Jan. 1 forecast put earnings growth at 4.3 percent.

Geopolitical issues will remain in view following news that the Pentagon was sending a missile defense system to Guam in the coming weeks, as well as remarks by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that North Korea posed a "real and clear" danger.

In corporate news, private equity firms TPG Capital and Madison Dearborn Partners are the two finalists bidding for National Financial Partners, a New York-based wealth management company with a market value of nearly $900 million, people familiar with the matter said.

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