(Corrects name of director at Lek Securities to Andre from Andrew)
* U.S. economy posts sluggish growth fourth quarter
* U.S. jobless claims rise more than expected in latest week
* BlackBerry reports quarterly profit; shares up
* Cyprus reopens banks under tight restrictions
* Futures: S&P flat; Dow flat; Nasdaq up 3 pts
By Angela Moon
NEW YORK, March 28 (Reuters) - Wall Street was set for a flat open on Thursday after data showed initial jobless claims rose more than expected last week and the U.S. economy expanded at a sluggish pace in the fourth quarter.
But U.S. stocks were set to close out a strong quarter with the S&P 500 up nearly 10 percent for the first quarter, the Dow up 11 percent and the Nasdaq up 8 percent. Thursday is the U.S. stock markets’ last trading day as Friday is Good Friday and a holiday.
Analysts also expected the S&P 500, which has been hovering near the record closing high for weeks, would finally break above the level.
“We’ve been in a pause phase for past 10 sessions or so, mainly because of the Cyprus wild card. There was hesitation in the market but it seems like the situation is sort of in control now,” said Andre Bakhos, director of market analytics at Lek Securities in New York.
“I expect not only the closing high but a new record high in the next few sessions (for the S&P 500 index).”
Data showed the economy expanded at a sluggish pace of 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter although a big gain in business investment and higher exports of services led the government to push up its previous estimate for growth.
The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, but probably not enough to suggest the labor market recovery was taking a step back.
Tight controls have been imposed on transactions by Cyprus’s banks to limit cash withdrawals, ban checks and bar businesses from transferring money abroad in most cases as banks reopened after nearly two weeks.
S&P 500 futures were flat and in line with 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 were up 5 points while Nasdaq 100 futures added 3 points.
BlackBerry announced an unexpected fourth-quarter profit on Thursday, driven by demand for its new touchscreen device which holds the key to a successful turnaround for the smartphone maker. U.S.-listed shares were up 2 percent in premarket trade.
Chesapeake Energy Corp’s search for a new chief executive to replace Aubrey McClendon is likely to extend beyond an April 1 deadline, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Influential proxy advisory firm ISS threw its weight behind opponents of MetroPCS Communications Inc’s proposed merger with T-Mobile USA, saying the deal undervalued the company and shareholders should vote against it. MetroPCS shares were up 2.6 percent in premarket trade.
A federal judge on Wednesday said JPMorgan Chase & Co must face a lawsuit by a pension plan that accused it of mismanaging its money by investing in Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc notes before that bank filed for bankruptcy in 2008.
U.S. stocks rebounded from early declines to close little changed on Wednesday, as investors worried about a run on Cypriot banks. (Reporting By Angela Moon; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Kenneth Barry)