Major retailers are reporting revenue at stores open at least a year Thursday. Sales likely fell in March from a year earlier. Consumers have delayed shopping for some Easter items, since the holiday falls later in April this year. Cold weather and high gas prices have also constrained spending.
But economists expect that fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week as layoffs slowed and the job market improved.
Ahead of the opening, Dow Jones industrial average futures are up 7, or 0.1 percent, at 12,364. Standard & Poor's 500 futures are up a point at 1,330.
Overseas markets are mixed after the European Central Bank raised its main interest rate by a quarter point to 1.25 percent, day after Portugal asked for a bailout.