By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stock index futures were little changed on Thursday as investors paused following a recent bout of volatility and ahead of key data on the economy.
Shares tumbled on Wednesday as gains in U.S. Treasury bond yields hit their highest level in more than a year, pressuring stocks that pay high dividends.
The spread between the S&P 500 dividend yield and the 10-year U.S. Treasury note's yield is at its narrowest in about a year. The S&P 500 dividend yield was about 2.39 percent near Wednesday's close.
The rise in yields came on concerns that the Federal Reserve would curb its bond-buying program sooner than most people expected. However, shares advanced on Tuesday following reassurances from central banks abroad that their programs would not be curtailed.
The Fed is expected to make decisions on its policy based on economic conditions, placing a higher premium on Thursday's economic data. A preliminary read on GDP is seen showing expansion of 2.5 percent in the first quarter, even with the previous quarter.
Separately, initial jobless claims are seen holding steady at 340,000 in the latest week. Both data points are due at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT), and while weak reads could raise fears about the pace of economic growth, strong data may be interpreted as hastening an end to the Fed's stimulus.
S&P 500 futures rose 2.9 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 2 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 2.5 points.
Loose monetary policies by central banks around the world have lifted stock markets, driving both the Dow and the S&P 500 to record highs this year. The S&P 500 is up 15.6 percent from its close at the end of 2012.
Defensive stocks have been among the leaders this year as investors favored high-dividend stocks over fixed-income securities in a low interest-rate environment. While signs that the Fed may begin tapering its stimulus is expected to hit cyclical shares - groups tied to the pace of economic growth, like energy and financials - further rises in Treasury yields are expected to continue weighing on defensive names.
In company news, Costco Wholesale Corp reported third-quarter earnings that beat expectations by a penny, though sales were below forecasts.
Mining equipment maker Joy Global Inc reported a drop in second-quarter earnings and revenue as a fall in commodity prices pushed miners to cut capital spending.
The Food and Drug Administration approved two new GlaxoSmithKline drugs for treating advanced melanoma.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)