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Investors focused on key growth gauge

A reading on the performance of the economy is the focus of investors this morning.

The Commerce Dept releases its final Q4 estimate for gross domestic product (GDP) and corporate profits later in the morning.

Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a 3.0 percent annualized pace of GDP growth, a repeat of the Q4 preliminary estimate, and a 2.6 percent profits rise versus a 2.7 percent rise in the prior report.

Separately, the Labor Department will release first-time claims for jobless benefits for the week ended March 24. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a total of 350,000 new filings compared with 348,000 in the prior week.

European stocks were flat on Thursday, hovering around a three-week low as rallying mining shares offset losses in the energy sector, where Total extended its slide, hit by worries over a gas leak in the North Sea.

The Nikkei eased 0.7 percent to 10,114.79 as investors locked in profit from a meteoric January-March rally that is poised to be its best first-quarter performance in 24 years.

Roche Holding hiked its cash bid for U.S. gene sequencing company Illumina to $6.7 billion, the Swiss drugmaker said as it seeks to win over shareholders ahead of Illumina's annual general meeting next month.

News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch vowed to "hit back hard" against what his company president called baseless allegations from the BBC that a subsidiary ran a secret unit to promote piracy against pay-TV rivals.

Reuters contributed to this report.