Futures Gain After Jobless Claims, ECB Rate Cut

U.S. stock index futures climbed Thursday as Wall Street cheered a better-than-expected jobless claims report and after the European Central Bank cut its key interest rate.

Weekly jobless claims dropped 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 324,000 last week, according to the Labor Department, falling to the lowest rate since January 2008. Economists polled by Reuters expected to see an increase to 346,000 in the previous week. The four-week average declined 16,000 to 342,250.

Separately, the U.S. trade deficit declined more than expected in March as imports posted their biggest decline since 2009, according to the Commerce Department.

Meanwhile, U.S. nonfarm productivity rose modestly in the first quarter at a 0.7 percent annual rate, according to the Labor Department, missing expectations for a 1.2 percent rate. And productivity fell at a 1.7 percent rate in the fourth quarter, according to revised figures.

As expected, the ECB knocked down its key rate by a quarter-point to 0.50 percent, the first rate cut since July 2012, as global central banks raced to enact easier monetary policy. ECB chief Mario Draghi added that the monetary stance will remain accomodative for "as long as is needed."

Draghi told reporters at a press conference following the rate cut announcement that inflation could remain subject to some volatility throughout the year. "Overall, euro area economic activity should stabilize and recover gradually in the second half of the year."

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve said it was prepared to "increase or reduce" the monthly pace of its $85 billion in bond purchases.

Among earnings, General Motors rallied after the automaker posted stronger-than-expected earnings.

Kellogg slipped after the cereal maker reported lower earnings, hurt by higher cost of commodities, but said it was on pace to meet its full-year goals.

AIG, Gilead Sciences and Kraft Foods are among notable companies scheduled to post quarterly results after the closing bell.

Intel announced that its board elected its current COO Brian Krzanich as the next chief executive. Krzanich will assume the role of CEO as of the chipmaker's May 16 shareholder meeting.

Meanwhile in Asia, shares fell across the board on Thursday after Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) data showed Chinese factory growth easing, indicating that sluggish demand from the U.S. and Europe is weighing on Chinese exports.

Experts say that these factors, combined with Europe's high unemployment and easing inflation, could trigger a round of monetary stimulus from central banks around the world.