* Initial jobless claims climb more than expected
* Factory orders data due
* AbbVie to buy Pharmacyclics for about $21 bln
* Costco climbs in premarket after results
* Futures up: Dow 39 pts, S&P 4 pts, Nasdaq 9.75 pts (Adds claims data, ECB decision)
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, March 5 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were set to open modestly higher on Thursday, in the wake of two days of declines on the S&P 500, after higher-than-expected initial jobless claims figures and ahead of a report on factory orders.
Futures trimmed gains after data showed initial jobless claims rose to 320,000 in the latest week, above the 295,000 estimate and 313,000 in the prior week.
“That’s a bit of an uptick because we’ve been pretty consistently in the upper 200,000 range,” said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois.
“Some movement up or down would be expected, but 320,000 is probably a bit more than people were looking for.”
The disappointing claims numbers come after a weaker-than-expected private payrolls report on Wednesday and ahead of Friday’s monthly employment report.
The benchmark S&P index has slowed after a 5-percent surge in February and a record on March 2 with its worst two-day performance since late January. The index has been down during four of the past six sessions as investors attempt to gauge the timing of an interest rate hike by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
January factory orders data is scheduled for later in the session at 10:00 a.m. (1500 GMT). Expectations call for orders to rise 0.2 percent versus a 3.4 percent decline in December.
S&P 500 e-mini futures were up 4 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 slightly higher open. Dow Jones industrial average e-mini futures rose 39 points and Nasdaq 100 e-mini futures added 9.75 points.
AbbVie is to buy Pharmacyclics for about $21 billion, giving it access to what is expected to be one of the world’s top-selling cancer drugs and expanding its reach in the profitable oncology field. Pharmacyclics shares jumped 10.4 percent to $254.48 in premarket trade while AbbVie lost 5.5 percent to $56.97.
Costco Wholesale rose 2.3 percent to $150.60 before the opening bell after it reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit. Retailers will be watched as they post monthly sales results for signs of whether lower gas prices have translated to improved spending elsewhere in the economy.
Kroger gained 5 percent to $73.15 in premarket after the biggest U.S. supermarket operator reported a 23 percent rise in quarterly profit and forecast full-year earnings above expectations.
The European Central Bank said it will start its new government bond-buying program of 60 billion euros a month on March 9 and raised its economic growth forecast for 2015. The central bank also boosted its 2016 inflation forecast to 1.5 percent.
Editing by Bernadette Baum