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US futures hold gains after jobless claims report

Futures were higher Thursday, with major averages looking to extend their gains from the previous session's sharp rally after the Federal Reserve surprised markets by opting to maintain its $85 billion-per-month asset purchases.

On the economic front, the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits rose 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 309,000, according to the Labor Department. But analysts said the reading was distorted as two states were still working through a backlog of unprocessed claims from last week.

Existing home sales, Philadelphia Fed survey and leading indicators will all be released at 10 am ET.

On Wednesday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank was not ready to cut back on stimulus measures, citing tightening financial conditions that could hurt employment. The decision surprised Wall Street analysts who had expected a $10 billion to $15 billion reduction in the central bank's $85 billion-a-month bond purchases.

Stocks ripped higher following the announcement, with the Dow and S&P 500 setting fresh highs.

The Fed cited rising mortgage rates for its decision, and also blamed Washington, where Congress is heading toward another showdown on the debt ceiling. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama told a gathering of business leaders that Washington was stuck in a stalemate over budgets, debt and healthcare costs, leaving government unable to function properly.

"Federal fiscal policy continues to be a restraint on growth and a source of downside risk," Bernanke said in a press conference following the Fed announcement.

(Read more: Next up for the market? Government shutdown!)

Asian and European equity markets enjoyed a risk-on rally on Thursday on the news. Emerging markets led the gains, as investors searched for higher-yielding assets, on the expectation that the Fed's continued liquidity boost would benefit these countries.

Daiwa's Chris Scicluna said the Fed's silence on when it might start tapering suggested it might not start scaling back stimulus measures until 2014.

"The FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) again was content to leave uncertainty persisting over quite when exactly it might start to taper, with (Chairman Ben) Bernanke emphasizing that there is no fixed time-table, and that the Committee's decisions about the pace of purchases will be data-contingent, as well as dependent upon a cost-benefit analysis of the program. So, while still possible, there is far from a done deal that tapering will start by year-end," Scicluna said in a research note.

Groupon rallied after Stifel raised its rating on the daily-deal site to "buy" from "hold."

JPMorgan Chase edged higher after the financial giant said it will pay approximately $920 million in penalties to regulators in two countries to settle some of its potential liabilities from its $6.2 billion London Whale derivatives loss last year.

Among earnings, Rite Aid shot higher after the drugstore chain lifted its earnings forecast for the year after posting a fourth-straight quarterly profit.

ConAgra slipped after the packaged foods maker forecast current-quarter earnings below expectations, due to weakness in its consumer foods division.

—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)

On Tap This Week:

THURSDAY: Existing home sales, Philadelphia Fed survey, leading indicators, natural gas inventories, Fed's Pianalto speaks, Fed balance sheet/money supply, Microsoft analyst mtg, Nike shareholder mtg, weekly rail numbers
FRIDAY: Fed's George speaks, Fed's Bullard speaks, Fed's Kocherlakota speaks, quadruple witching, new iPhones in stores

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