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US stock futures point to higher open, eyes on Fed

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, June 29 (Reuters) U.S. stock futures extended gains on Thursday, signaling a higher start on Wall Street, on a stronger-than-expected final reading of first-quarter U.S.

economic growth and an unexpectedly large rise in weekly jobless claims.

The data came as investors awaited a policy statement by the Federal Reserve to see how much longer it intends to raise interest rates after a widely anticipated increase on Thursday.

Analysts said the latest jobless claims data could underpin sentiment as it suggested the economy was growing at a more sustainable pace.

''Jobless claims were up 2 weeks in a row and now we are seeing them get back to a trend that makes more sense. We were running too low and showing too much strength,'' said Bob MacIntosh, chief economist with Eaton Vance Management in Boston.

S&P 500 futures rose 4 points, 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 were up 37 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 3.5 points.

Energy stocks were expected to be buoyant for a second day on firm U.S. crude oil prices, which held above a barrel.

The Fed is widely expected to lift its benchmark federal funds rate by a quarter percentage point, to 5.25 percent, at 2:15 p.m. (1815 GMT), the 17th such increase in two years.

Investors will study the wording of the Fed's accompanying policy statement for clues on when it may end its rate-raising campaign as the market frets that further tightening of monetary policy could slow growth and hurt corporate profits.

''We are prepared for higher interest rates, but we just want to see (Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke) give some indication of where the end of rate increases might be,'' said Peter Dunay, chief investment strategist, Leeb Index Group in New York.

U.S. crude oil futures for August delivery were up 34 cents at .53 in electronic trading, a day after weekly government data showed a larger-than-expected drop in supply ahead of the U.S. Independence Day holiday on Tuesday.

U.S. economic growth leaped ahead at an upwardly revised 5.6 percent annual rate in the first quarter, helped by lower imports than first thought and generating strong corporate profits, the Commerce Department said.

The department pushed its estimate of first-quarter GDP up from 5.3 percent that it reported a month ago. That slightly exceeded Wall Street economists' median expectation for a 5.5 percent rate. New claims for U.S. jobless aid rose by a slightly larger-than-expected 4,000 last week, Labor Department data showed.


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