US stock-index futures hold gains after jobless claims

U.S. stock -index futures pointed to a higher open on Thursday, after jobless claims came in just under under expectations, with the data coming a day before Friday's all-important non-farm payrolls.

Last week's claims came in at 330,000, just below the expectations of 340,000.

Initial claims follow Wednesday's ADP private sector jobs data, which came in stronger than expected -- leading some economists to boost their expectations for Friday's non-farm payrolls.

"Jobless claims are a leading indicator, whereas the jobs report is a lagging one, so I want to see claims continue to move lower. The ADP report signaled what might be an above-consensus release coming out of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday," said Mark Luschini, chief market strategist at Janney Montgomery, speaking ahead of the data.

The day will then end with Alcoa's closely watched earnings, which mark the unofficial start to the U.S. fourth-quarter earnings season.

"Consensus is for Alcoa to report net income of $60.5 million on revenues of $5.3 billion, but as always, there will be as much focus on the company's demand outlook as there is on the company's historical results," said Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid and Anthony Ip in a research note.

Earlier on Thursday, Costco, the U.S.'s second largest retailer, reported December sales that beat expectations, helped by online successes in the U.S. and Canada. Net sales rose 6 percent to $11.5 billion last month. Despite the upbeat news, Frankfurt-listed Costco shares traded around 1.4 percent lower in early trade.

The Treasury will sell $13 billion of 30-year bonds on Thursday, while the Federal Reserve will purchase $0.6-0.9 billion of 10-17-year Treasury notes.

—By CNBC's Katy Barnato