U.S. stock-index futures pointed to a higher Wall Street open on Thursday, as fewer-than-expected Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week.
Initial jobless came in at 331,000, a drop of 20,000 from the prior week. Economists surveyed by Reuters expected 340,000 new claims last week, down from 348,000 in the previous week.
The weekly data comes ahead of Friday's nonfarm payrolls report. After December's disappointing reading, analysts polled by Reuters forecast 185,000 new jobs were created last month. Another weak report could dent investor sentiment, which has been hurt by the reduction in Federal Reserve stimulus, turmoil in emerging markets and slowing Chinese growth.
(CNBC explains: Tapering)
"I think the market is expecting a decent (jobs) number, but they're worried with the weather… The question is whether it's as bad as everyone thinks," said Gary Thayer, chief macro strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors.
Other economic data Thursday had the U.S. trade deficit expanding 12 percent to $38.7 billion. The Commerce Department report illustrated a broad-based drop after jumping in November, as imports edged higher on increasing consumer demand.
Another report had fourth-quarter productivity coming in a 3.2 percent, versus expectations it would fall to 2.5 percent from 3.0 percent.