Stock futures rising following gains overseas

NEW YORK - Stocks appear headed for a higher open following gains in European and Asian markets.

The optimism comes despite Portugal's heading closer to a bailout after its government quit late Wednesday. European leaders are meeting to discuss the region's debt problems. Crude oil prices also remain close to their highest level since 2008.

"None of it has been a surprise," said Oliver Pursche, president of Gary Goldberg Financial Services. "I don't know any strategists that really thought oil was going to be trading below $100 per barrel in the near term. I don't think anybody was really expecting anything other than weakness out of the tertiary European nations."

Instead, investors have focused on continued profit growth by companies and the recovery of the U.S. economy, Pursche said. Total operating earnings per share for companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 28 percent last quarter, according to S&P data.

Chef Boyardee maker ConAgra Foods Inc. reported Thursday earnings from continuing operations above analysts' expectations. Electronics retailer Best Buy Co. said its fourth-quarter net income fell 16 percent, but its results excluding restructuring costs beat analysts' expectations.

Before the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures are up 66 points to 12,087. S&P 500 futures are up 8 to 1,300. Nasdaq 100 futures are up 19 to 2,284.

In an economic report ahead of the opening, the government said fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, evidence that layoffs are slowing. Over the last four weeks, the average number of people filing applications has been 385,250, the lowest since July 2008.

A separate report, though, showed companies trimmed their orders for long-lasting manufactured goods last month.

Stocks have been volatile since Feb. 18, when the Dow Jones industrial average climbed to its highest close since June 2008. Violent protests in Libya raised worries about the global supply of crude oil, pushing up its price. Japan's earthquake and subsequent nuclear crisis also threatened the global economic recovery.

On Wednesday, the Dow rose 67.39 points, or 0.6 percent, to close at 12,086.02. The Standard & Poor's 500 index edged up 3.77 points, or 0.3 percent, to close at 1,297.54. The Nasdaq composite index rose 14.43, or 0.5 percent, to 2,698.30.