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Futures hold gains after jobless claims report, trade data

U.S. stock index futures held their gains across the board Thursday following the latest jobless claims report and trade data.

(Read more: As US stocks near high, is it time to cherry pick?)

On the economic front, weekly jobless claims declined 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000, according to the Labor Department. Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time applications to fall to 340,000 last week. Meanwhile, a Labor Department analyst said claims from the backlog in California were still working their way through the system. Ongoing computer issues in California have muddied the claims figures since September.

And the U.S. trade deficit widened slightly by 0.4 percent to $38.9 billion in August as exports slipped, according to the Commerce Department. Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected a reading of $39.5 billion.

"The market seems to want numbers that aren't bad but aren't good—somewhere in the middle," said Jim Iuorio, director at TJM Institutional Services. "What the market would really love is numbers that continue to give us a lack of clarity because if the Fed doesn't have clarity, they're certainly not going to talk about taper."

U.S. stocks have remain near record highs in recent sessions, with the up 22.5 percent for the year so far.

Apple ticked higher after billionaire Carl Icahn asked the tech giant to commence an immediate tender offer in a letter to CEO Tim Cook, according to a source. Icahn now owns roughly 4.7 million shares of Apple, up from 4 million shares.

Among earnings, Ford rallied after the automaker beat earnings estimates and raised its guidance for the full year.

3M ticked higher after the conglomerate topped earnings and revenue estimates.

Meanwhile, Dow Chemical declined after the chemical company missed expectations both on the top and bottom lines, citing unrest in the Middle East region. However, CEO Andrew Liveris told CNBC that the company is seeing improved pricing and cash flow this quarter.

(Read more: As US stocks near high, is it time to cherry pick?), Microsoft, Western Digital and Zynga are among notable firms slated to post results after the closing bell tonight.

Goldman Sachs edged higher after Deutsche Bank raised its rating on the financial giant to "buy" from "hold."

In Asia, HSBC's flash PMI for China suggested its manufacturing sector increased this month, due to a strong rise in new orders. This was the latest piece of positive data to emerge from the world's second-largest economy, following last week's upbeat third-quarter GDP report. Despite the good news, the Shanghai Composite hit a one-month low, weighed down by fears of a repeat of June's cash crunch.

(Read more: China money market rates spike – don't panic yet)

Meanwhile, Markit's flash PMI for the euro zone indicated that growth in business activity in the region unexpectedly slowed in October, raising questions about the strength of its economic recovery.

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

On Tap This Week:

THURSDAY: Natural gas inventories, Kansas city mfg index, Fed balance sheet/money supply; Earnings from, Microsoft, Western Digital, Zynga
FRIDAY: Durable goods orders*, consumer sentiment, iPhone 5s & 5c sold overseas, Twitter roadshow begins; Earnings from P&G, UPS

(*Report likely delayed due to government shutdown)

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