Futures Extend Gains After Jobless Claims Report
U.S. stock index futures added to their gains Thursday following the weekly jobless claims report and ahead of several Federal Reserve policymakers.
Upbeat economic data from China also helped bolster sentiment. Industrial profits unexpectedly rose 15 percent in May year-on-year, defying expectations of a slowdown. Japan's Nikkei rallied nearly 3 percent, logging its biggest percentage gain in 13 sessions, while the Shanghai Composite Index finished flat.
"Any China data carries significant weight these days as investors are desperate for signs that the world's second biggest economy is still ticking along," wrote Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG.
On the economic front, weekly jobless claims fell 9,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 346,000, according to the Labor Department, largely in line with expectations. The four-week moving average for new claims fell 2,750 to 345,750. And consumer spending rebounded 0.3 percent in May, matching estimates, after a revised 0.3 percent decline in the prior month, according to the Commerce Department.
Treasury prices extended their gains as yields tumbled to session lows following the data.
(Read More: Why All the Bond Selling Hysteria May Be Overdone)
"I think it makes the Fed even more confident that they're doing the right thing," said Drew Matus, senior U.S. economist and managing director at UBS. "And if you look at these numbers, they suggest that the second quarter's going t be better than the first quarter."
Pending home sales for May will be reported at 10 am ET. Economists in a Reuters survey expect a 1.0 percent rise compared with a 0.3 percent increase in April.
Investors will also be looking ahead to speeches from Federal Reserve officials, including New York Fed President William Dudley who will speak just after Wall Street opens.
Although Dudley, a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), is to speak about the regional economy and the labor market, traders hope he will also comment on recent stock market volatility.
"That will be an important speech. He is in the center of the committee, or one of those towards the center for the committee,and aligned with Chairman Ben Bernanke, so it will be interesting to hear how he discusses the outlook, what he says about tapering, and how he's interpreting the recent data," said Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist at Barclays.
(Read More: Fed Speak Expected to Shape Trading Day)
Markets have been fixated on Fed commentary this week,after Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said last week that the central bank could begin to wind down its $85 billion monthly bond purchases before the end of the year. That sent already rising yields higher and sent stocks on a roller-coaster ride.
Other Fed speakers on Thursday include Fed Governor Jerome Powell, who will speak at 10:30 a.m. on non-conventional monetary policy, and Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, who will speak at 12:30 p.m.
In addition, the Treasury will auction $29 billion in 7-year notes at 1 p.m. The auction follows a $35 billion 5-year auction Wednesday and a $35 billion 2-year auction Tuesday, both with anemic results.
"The results for the 2- and 5-year do not bode well for the 7-year tomorrow," said Ian Lyngen, senior Treasury strategist at CRT Capital, speaking on Wednesday. "There's limited risk appetite ahead of the end of the quarter."
Among earnings, ConAgra gained after the food producer posted earnings that edged past expectations, while revenue largely met forecasts. The company also said it is benefiting from its Ralcorp acquisition, but is facing some profit headwinds in its commercial foods segment.
KBHome edged higher after the homebuilder posted a narrower-than-expected loss and topped revenue expectations.
McCormick posted quarterly results that were in line with estimates, but the spice maker lowered its full-year earnings forecast to reflect weakness in its industrial markets.
—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)
Coming Up This Week:
THURSDAY: Pending home sales, natural gas inventories, Fed's Powell speaks, Fed's Lockhart speaks, 7-yr note auction, farm prices, Fed balance sheet/money supply, Apple e-books decision day; Earnings from Nike, Accenture
FRIDAY: Fed's Stein speaks, Fed's Lacker speaks, Chicago PMI, consumer sentiment, Fed's Pianalto speaks, Fed's Williams speaks, NewsCorp splits into 2 companies; Earnings from Blackberry
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