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U.S. Stock Futures Rise as Jobless Claims Fall to 3-Month Low

March 6 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. stock futures rose, after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fluctuated near an all-time high yesterday, as data showed jobless claims fell to the lowest level in three months.

Sangamo Biosciences Inc. jumped 17 percent after saying its experimental treatment lowered the amount of HIV in some AIDS patients. Pluristem Therapeutics Inc. climbed 6.4 percent after getting regulatory approval for manufacturing stem-cell therapy products. Costco Wholesale Corp. slipped 2.7 percent after posting fiscal second-quarter profit that missed analysts’ estimates.

Futures on the S&P 500 expiring this month gained 0.3 percent to 1,877 at 8:33 a.m. in New York. Contracts on the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 36 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,391 today.

“The economic recovery in the U.S. is certainly on track, although subdued,” Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Plc in London, wrote in an e-mail. “The latest set of economic data provides an opportunity to bolster markets which are testing new highs, particularly after tensions between Russia and Ukraine seem to have become political rather than military.”

The S&P 500 fell less than one point yesterday as investors assessed weaker-than-estimated data on payrolls and services. The guage rallied the most this year to close at a record on March 4, as the tension in the Ukraine appeared to ease.

Jobless Claims

Fewer Americans than projected filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, an indication companies are holding on to staff even as cold weather threatens to slow the world’s largest economy. Jobless claims declined by 26,000 to 323,000 in the week ended March 1, fewer than any economist forecast in a Bloomberg survey and the least since the end of November, a Labor Department report showed today.

A separate report may show that factory orders dropped 0.5 percent in January after declining 1.5 percent in December, according to the projections.

The Federal Reserve said yesterday in its Beige Book business survey that the economy in most regions grew last month even as harsh winter weather impeded hiring. Investors have been speculating that recent weakness in data from housing to jobs was caused by inclement weather. The Labor Department will release its February jobs report tomorrow.

Three rounds of Fed stimulus have helped push the S&P 500 up 177 percent from a 12-year low, as U.S. equities are set to enter the sixth year of a bull market that started March 9, 2009.

ECB Rates

The European Central Bank kept interest rates unchanged at a record low of 0.25 percent today, as stronger inflation and economic output reduced the need for officials to take action. The decision was forecast by 40 out of 54 economists in a Bloomberg News survey.

U.S. and European leaders intensified diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis in Ukraine, after Russia’s foreign minister evaded a U.S. attempt to get him to talk to his counterpart in Kiev. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will take part in a European Union meeting to consider the next steps.

The crisis erupted last weekedn after pro-Russian forces took control of Ukraine’s Crimea region, following the departure of Viktor Yanukovych as the country’s president. The S&P 500 plunged the most in a month on March 3, joining a global selloff in equities as investors sought havens.

Stock Moves

Sangamo jumped 17 percent to $22.90. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers led by Carl June at the University of Pennsylvania infused 12 patients with the company’s SB-728-T, an experimental treatment that changes CCR5. The trial found that the treatment was associated with a drop in the amount of virus in some patients who were taken off their regular anti-AIDS drugs.

Pluristem rose 6.4 percent to $4.32. The Food and Drug Administration gave its approval for the company to manufacture placenta-based cell therapies at its new production unit.

Costco Wholesale slipped 2.7 percent to $113.32. The largest U.S. warehouse-club chain said net income in the quarter ended Feb. 16 fell 15 percent to $1.05 a share from $1.24 a year earlier. Analysts projected profit of $1.17, the average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

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