By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were set to inch higher at the open on Thursday, indicating the Dow and S&P may continue to scale historic highs after data showed new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 42,000 to a seasonally adjusted 346,000 last week, the Labor Department said, beating expectations for a drop to 365,000, and unwinding a jump in the previous week.
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.
"It seems like it is all systems go here, I am not sensing any sense of fear on any level," said Gordon Charlop, a managing director at Rosenblatt Securities in New York.
"With market conditions being what they are, with the data being what it is, the Fed policy being what it is, the climate for American equities is as good now as it's been in the past five years."
Other data showed import prices slipped 0.5 percent last month, in line with expectations, while export prices fell 0.4 percent, signaling inflation pressure remained tepid and would allow the Federal Reserve to continue with its current monetary policy.
S&P 500 futures rose 0.5 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 17 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures dipped 6.25 points.
Shares of Yum Brands Inc(YUM.N) dipped 2.8 percent to $64.90 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(COST.O) 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(MSFT.O) dropped 3.5 percent to $29.23 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(HPQ.N) fell 6.1 percent to $21.12 and Intel Corp(INTC.O) lost 2.1 percent to $21.80 in premarket trade.
Deutsche Telekom(DTEGn.DE) sweetened its terms for the proposed merger between T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS Communications(PCS.N) by reducing the combined company's debt, bowing to pressure from activists and proxy advisory firms. MetroPcs shares slipped 1.5 percent to $11.39 before the opening bell.
Acadia Pharmaceuticals Inc(ACAD.O) surged 42.3 percent to $11.37 in premarket trading after the drugmaker said data from an initial late-stage trial would be sufficient to file for approval for its experimental Parkinson's Disease drug, and it would not need to conduct an additional trial as it had planned earlier.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)