Stock futures fall as unemployment claims rise

Stock futures fell Thursday after the government reported that new applications for unemployment benefits rose more than expected and the trade deficit jumped.

The Labor Department said new unemployment claims rose by 26,000 to a seasonally adjusted 397,000 for the week ending March 5. Analysts had expected claims to rise by 12,000. The jump comes after applications fell to nearly a three-year low the previous week.

Separately, the Commerce Department said the trade deficit increased 15.1 percent to $46.3 billion in January as higher oil prices caused imports to rise faster than exports. A widening deficit threatens the U.S. economic recovery. When imports outpace exports, more jobs go to overseas workers than to U.S. workers.

Crude oil futures fell $1.53 to $102.85 a barrel Thursday as Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi looked to recapture ground from opposition forces. Oil has been elevated over the past few weeks over fighting in Libya, a country that normally produces less than 2 percent of the world's oil supply. Investors are mainly worried that unrest in the Middle East and North Africa will spread to major oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia, and threaten oil supplies.

Ahead of the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 49, or 0.4 percent, to 12,125. S&P 500 index futures fell 7.1, or 0.5 percent, to 1,308. Nasdaq 100 futures fell 11.25, or 0.5 percent, to 2,299.

European and Asian stock prices were down Thursday morning after weaker-than-expected Chinese economic data, Libyan unrest and a downgrade of Spain's debt. World markets have been shaken by high oil prices, which still threaten global growth prospects. Meanwhile, Moody's downgraded its credit rating on Spain, re-igniting fears about the region's debt crisis.

Later this morning, SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro will testify at the first of two Capitol Hill hearings to defend how the agency handled compensation for victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Smithfield Foods reported Thursday morning its third-quarter net income shot up to $202.6 million, or $1.21 per share, because of an insurance claim and increased demand for pork. Both profit and revenue for the company beat Wall Street's expectations. The news sent stock for the world's largest hog producer soaring to 9 percent, or $2, to $24.75 in pre-market trading.

Stocks dipped Wednesday as oil's three-week run of high prices dampened markets and the price of crude oil hovered around $104. The S&P index lost 1.80 points, or 0.1 percent, to close at 1,320.02. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 1.29, or less than 0.1 percent, to 12,213.09. The Nasdaq composite fell 14.05, or 0.5 percent, to 2,751.72.