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U.S. Stock Futures Extend Gains on Housing Starts, Jobless Data

Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. stock-index futures extended gains after government data showed housing starts increased more than forecast and jobless claims fell to a five-year low, bolstering optimism in the economy.

Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring in March rose 0.4 percent to 1,471.6 at 8:32 a.m. in New York. The equity benchmark is trading at a five-year high after U.S. lawmakers agreed on a compromise budget and companies reported earnings that beat analysts’ estimates.

Housing starts climbed 12.1 percent last month to a 954,000 annual rate, exceeding all forecasts in a Bloomberg survey of economists and the most since June 2008, the Commerce Department reported today in Washington. For all of last year, construction began on 780,000 homes, up from 608,800 in 2011 and also the most since 2008.

Applications for jobless benefits decreased by 37,000 to 335,000 in the week ended Jan. 12, the lowest level since the period ended Jan. 19, 2008, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 369,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. A spokesman for the agency said the figure may reflect challenges adjusting the data for the pickup in claims that typically occurs in early January.

The S&P 500 advanced less than 0.1 percent to 1,472.63 yesterday as a cut in World Bank growth forecasts offset a rally in Apple Inc.

Intel Corp., Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. are among 14 companies in the S&P 500 reporting quarterly earnings today. About 72 percent of the 50 companies in the index that have reported earnings so far exceeded projections. Analysts on average forecast growth of 2.5 percent in fourth-quarter earnings, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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