Stock futures flat before jobless claims data (Reuters)

March 31, 2011

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Thursday as investors looked ahead to weekly jobless claims data on the final day of the first quarter.

The week has been marked by some of the year’s lowest volumes as traders opt to ride recent winners amid global risks. The S&P 500 is up 5.6 percent in the quarter, based on Wednesday’s close.

Initial jobless claims, due at 8:30 a.m., are forecast at 380,000, a slight decline from the prior week. Wednesday’s reassuring ADP report on private payrolls kept sentiment up for Friday’s key government non-farm payrolls report.

David Sokol, the man widely seen as the leading successor to Warren Buffett to head up Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa.N) (BRKb.N), has resigned after buying shares in chemical company Lubrizol Corp (LZ.N) before pushing Buffett to acquire it. Berkshire’s Class B shares fell 2.6 percent to $83.25 in premarket trading.

S&P 500 futures fell 0.4 point and were even 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 added 8 points and Nasdaq 100 futures slid 0.5 point.

February durable goods and factory orders data will be released after the market opens; factory orders are seen rising by a smaller amount than in the previous month.

Chicago PMI data and the New York ISM number, both for March, will also be released.

Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) stepped up its rivalry with Google Inc (GOOG.O) on Thursday by filing a formal complaint with the European Commission claiming Google systematically thwarts Internet search competition.

The Macau unit of Las Vegas Sands Corp (LVS.N) said it is being investigated by the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission for alleged regulatory breaches, the latest twist in a case that involves allegations of corruption and bribery. Shares of Las Vegas Sands fell 3.7 percent to $41.85 before the bell.

U.S. stocks rose for a second session on Wednesday with activity dominated by some of the strongest-performing groups in the first quarter, including energy and small-cap stocks.

(Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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