U.S. stock index futures held their sharp gains Thursday, as Wall Street cheered upbeat economic data from China and Europe and a better-than-expected jobless claims report.
On the economic front, weekly jobless claims tumbled 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, dropping to a 5-1/2 year low, according to the Labor Department. Economists surveyed by Reuters expected a reading of 345,000, compared with 343,000 in the prior week. And the number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms declined modestly in July, with employers announcing 37,701 cuts last month, down 4.2 percent from 39,372 in June, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
The reports came ahead of Friday's widely-watched government job report. Analysts polled by Reuters expect to see a gain of 184,000 in July, after a 195,000 uptick in the previous month.
(Read more: July jobs report key to Fed action)
The Institute for Supply Management will release its July manufacturing index and the Commerce Department releases June construction spending data at 10 am.
Stocks ended flat on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve did not signal when it would start tapering its bond-buying program. However, it did raise concerns about rising mortgage rates and flagged the risks of inflation falling too far below its target. In addition, the central bank slightly downgraded its outlook for economic growth. Still, major averages closed out their best July since 2010.
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