US STOCKS-Futures edge higher with claims data on tap
* Yum Brands falls on avian flu sales impact
* Initial claims, import-export prices data on tap
* Futures: Dow up 14 pts, S&P up 0.7 pts, Nasdaq off 4.5 pts
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, April 11 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures edged higher on Thursday, indicating the S&P may scale fresh historic highs amid signs China's recovery may be gaining steam and ahead of U.S. labor market data.
Both the Dow and S&P climbed more than 1 percent on Wednesday to close at new record highs after three straight days of gains.
Central bank data in China showed Chinese banks made 1.06 trillion yuan ($171.2 billion) of new local currency loans in March, pointing to a recovery being aided by a comfortable amount of credit.
Investors will peruse weekly jobless claims data due at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT) for signs of life in the labor market after Friday's disappointing payrolls report. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a total of 365,000 new filings, compared with 385,000 in the prior week.
"The market has been on a mission - even if economic numbers were to come in weak, the market has been absorbing less-than-optimal data in a benign way," said Andre Bakhos, director of market analytics at Lek Securities in New York.
"Wall Street bears have been looking for a top for months now, it hasn't emerged and no one knows what could create a top, there has to be evidence of a topping process before we go down."
Also due at 8:30 a.m. (1230 GMT) are import-export prices for March. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a 0.5 percent drop in imports and a 0.1 percent rise in exports.
S&P 500 futures rose 0.7 point and were slightly 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 rose 14 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures dipped 4.5 points.
Shares of Yum Brands Inc dipped 3.2 percent to $64.65 in premarket trading after the biggest foreign fast-food chain operator in China said Wednesday the latest deadly avian flu outbreak would have a "significant, negative impact" on sales at KFC stores in China in April.
Retailers will be in focus as they post monthly sales results. Warehouse club chain Costco Wholesale Corp reported a 4 percent rise in March sales at stores open at least a year, missing analysts' expectations, due to lower fuel prices and a strong dollar.
Microsoft Corp dropped 3.4 percent to $29.25 in premarket trading after Goldman Sachs cut its rating on the stock to "sell" from "neutral."
A leading tech tracking firm said personal computer sales plunged 14 percent in the first three months of the year, the biggest decline in two decades of keeping records. Hewlett-Packard Co fell 5.4 percent to $21.12 and Intel Corp lost 2.8 percent to $21.64 in premarket trade.
Chevron Corp, the second-largest U.S. oil company, said its production of oil and gas fell from a relatively strong fourth quarter as work on two of its three biggest U.S. refineries cut into downstream performance.
Deutsche Telekom sweetened its terms for the proposed merger between T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS Communications by reducing the combined company's debt, bowing to pressure from activists and proxy advisory firms. MetroPcs shares advanced 0.3 percent to $11.59 before the opening bell.
European shares advanced, aided by bumper gains for asset managers such as Ashmore, which smashed forecasts with net inflows of $7.3 billion in the first quarter, compared with analysts' estimates for $1.3 billion.
Asian shares were boosted by fresh data that underscored a recovery in China and by Wall Street's record closing overnight.
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