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Wall Street upbeat ahead of jobless claims data

Wall Street is pointing higher before the bell, with investors awaiting the latest data on jobs and home sales.

The Labor Department releases weekly unemployment claims at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time Thursday. While economists expect a modest uptick, applications in the previous report fell to the lowest level since April, and a modest increase likely won't dampen that trend.

Also, the National Association of Realtors reports on the number of contracts for new homes signed in November. October contracts were at the highest level in a year, albeit a terrible one. And a report Tuesday showed that prices for homes fell in most major cities.

Dow futures rose 0.24 percent to 12,110 and S&P 500 futures added 0.3 percent to 1,248.20. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.27 percent to 2,265.50.

Most European markets are higher, although investors are still uneasy about riskier assets. In France the CAC-40 rose 0.3 percent to 3,082, while Germany's DAX was 0.4 percent higher at 5,795. The FTSE 100 index of leading U.K. shares rose 0.2 percent to 5,516.

The euro slid to $1.2880, not far from $1.2860, its lowest level of the year. The euro, however, did hit a 10-year low against the yen.

Borrowing rates fell for a second day in Italy, although the country's premier warned that much more had to be done to convince financial markets that Italy could bring down its huge debt load.

Banks are still parking large amounts of cash overnight at the European Central Bank, suggesting they are afraid to lend to each other despite low interest rates.

Asian stock markets finished mixed in light trading. Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.3 percent to close at 8,398.89. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index closed 0.7 percent lower at 18,397.92. Australia's S&P ASX 200 fell 0.4 percent to end 4,071.10. Benchmarks in India and Singapore were also lower.

Other Asian markets posted small gains. South Korea's Kospi reversed earlier losses and closed 0.3 percent higher at 1,825.74. China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.2 percent to end at 2,173.56, while the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index added 0.1 percent to finish at 890.45.

Benchmark crude rose 34 cents to $99.70 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.