* Initial claims fall, housing starts short of estimates
* Morgan Stanley climbs in premarket after earnings
* Microsoft to cut up to 18,000 jobs, 14 percent of force
* Futures off: Dow 39 pts, S&P 8.5 pts, Nasdaq 16 pts (Adds data, link to Morning Call, updates prices)
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, July 17 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were poised for a lower open on Thursday, in the wake of fresh U.S. and European Union sanctions on Russia and weaker-than-expected housing data.
* The U.S. sanctions announced late Wednesday hit some of Russia's biggest firms while the EU sanctions were aimed at Russian companies that help destabilize Ukraine and will block new loans to Russia through two multilateral lenders. Russia's MICEX index lost 2.9 percent.
* Housing starts were well short of expectations in June, as groundbreaking declined 9.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual 893,000 million unit-pace, the lowest since September, against expectations for a 1.02 million-unit rate.
* But initial jobless claims dropped 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 302,000 for the week ended July 12 versus expectations calling for claims of 310,000.
* As earnings season continues, Morgan Stanley shares advanced 1.3 percent to $32.91 in premarket trading after the bank posted second-quarter earnings that more than doubled, beating market estimates.
* Microsoft shares rose 2.8 percent to $45.32 after the company said it would cut up to 18,000 jobs, or about 14 percent of its workforce, resulting in pre-tax charges of $1.1 billion to $1.6 billion over the next four quarters.
* S&P 500 e-mini futures were down 8.5 points and fair value - a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract - indicated a lower open. Dow Jones industrial average e-mini futures fell 39 points and Nasdaq 100 e-mini futures lost 16 points.
* Sandisk Corp shares slumped 7.8 percent to $99.39 before the opening bell after the company reported second-quarter profit and revenue that barely beat analysts' expectations and gave a third-quarter revenue forecast that was below Wall Street's estimate.
* Mattel shares dropped 7.8 percent to $36 in premarket trade after the world's largest toymaker reported its third straight fall in quarterly sales on a slump in demand for Barbie dolls and Fisher Price preschool toys.
* Google and IBM are scheduled to report earnings after the closing bell.
* S&P 500 companies' profits are expected to grow 5.2 percent in the second quarter, according to Thomson Reuters data, down from the 8.4 percent growth forecast at the start of April. Revenue is seen up 3.2 percent.
* Thomson Reuters data also shows that of the 45 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings through Wednesday morning, 66.7 percent have topped Wall Street expectations, roughly in-line with the 67 percent rate for the past four quarters and above the 63 percent rate since 1994. (Editing by Bernadette Baum)