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Futures higher amid data; earnings, payrolls eyed

U.S. stock index futures indicated a higher open on Thursday as markets digested the latest Challenger jobs report, amid a raft of earnings reports, as investors geared up for Friday's closely watched July jobs report.

Weekly jobless claims came in at 270,000, slightly below expectations.

U.S. job cuts soared to a nearly four-year high in July as the military announced plans to reduce troop and civilian workforce payrolls, according to outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Employers based in the United States announced 105,696 layoffs last month, the first time monthly reductions exceeded 100,000 since September 2011. A year ago, U.S. companies announced plans to cut 46,887 jobs.

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However, none of the jobs data so far this week are expected to significantly affect Friday's key report.

"We think this increase in announced job cuts will have no impact on the July BLS report, and only a minimal impact on the employment data over the next few years. The jump in layoffs announced in July was basically entirely due to reductions announced by the US Army that are scheduled to begin in October and be implemented over the next two years," JPMorgan said in a morning note.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The Challenger report comes a day before the Labor Department's crucial July jobs report. A weak report would make it less likely for the Federal Reserve to announce its first interest rate increase in nine years at its September meeting.

Goldman Sachs economists raised their forecast for nonfarm payrolls to 225,000 from 210,000 after the ISM nonmanufacturing survey surged to a 10-year high and included a surprisingly strong employment component.

Economists expect a consensus 223,000 nonfarm payrolls, and an unchanged unemployment rate of 5.3 percent, according to Thomson Reuters.

July's reductions published Thursday bring the year-to-date total to 393,368 cuts, a 34 percent increase from the period last year.

Oil prices were also in focus, as Brent crude hovered near multi-month lows, remaining below $50 per barrel. U.S. crude traded around $44.56 a barrel.

Earnings are expected from Viacom, Michael Kors, Duke Energy,Apache, Becton Dickinson, Molson Coors Brewing, Mylan Labs,Energizer, HSN, Teradata, Windstream, SeaWorld, New York Times,Chemours,AMC Networks and Elizabeth Arden before market open.

Reports from Con Ed, EOG Resources, Wingstop, Lions Gate, Great Plains Energy, Noodles and Co., TrueCar, Zynga and Monster Beverage are all due after the bell.

In Europe, equities traded mixed on Thursday, as crude weighed on sentiment and the Bank of England kept rates unchanged.

CNBC's Patti Domm contributed to this report