Futures Sharply Higher on Bernanke Comments

U.S. stock index futures were sharply higher Thursday, with major averages set to open at all-time highs, after Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke emphasized the central bank intends to keep its stimulus measures for the foreseeable future.

Speaking at a conference after the market close Wednesday, Bernanke said monetary policy would remain accommodative for the foreseeable future, even if the unemployment rate hit the Fed's target of 6.5 percent. This came after the publication of minutes from the Fed's latest policy meeting, which showed that policymakers want further reassurances about the strength of the jobs market before pulling back on stimulus measures.

(Read More: What Did Ben Say? Playing the Fed Word Game)

However, some analysts flagged concerns after reading the policy meeting notes.

"There is a hint in the minutes that the tapering might be a short-lived process," wrote Robert Mellman, a senior U.S.economist for JPMorgan.

On the economic front, weekly jobless claims rose by 16,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 360,000, according to the Labor Department, above expectations for a reading of 340,000. The four-week moving average of new claims increased by a more modest 6,000 to 351,750.

Meanwhile, import and export prices declined for the fourth-straight month in June, according to the Labor Department.

The Treasury will sell $13 billion of 30-year bonds with the results available shortly after 1pm ET.

Among earnings, Yum Brands edged higher after the parent company of KFC and Pizza Hut edged past earnings expectations. But sales were slightly shy of consensus and the company's sales in the important China market fell 20 percent. Still, the fast-food chain said it expects positive same-store sales in China by the fourth quarter.

Financial giants JPMorgan and Wells Fargo are slated to post earnings on Friday.

Analysts expect S&P 500 earnings to have increased 2.6 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, with revenue up 1.5 percent, according to the latest data from Thomson Reuters.

Microsoft edged higher after the software giant announced plans to restructure its business.

In other news, gasoline prices are forecast to jump between 10 and 20 cents per gallon within the next few days, driven by rising oil prices and peak driving season. Oil prices have risen in recent weeks on geopolitical concerns, along with declining inventories.

In Asia, the Shanghai Composite rose above the key 2,000 level for a second straight session on Thursday, on hopes that Wednesday's dismal trade data will lead the Chinese central bank to ease monetary policy in an effort to boost growth.

(Poll: Will China Experience a 'Hard Landing' in 2013?)

Meanwhile, the yen strengthened further against the dollar on Thursday after the Bank of Japan held its monetary policy steady, but upgraded the country's economic outlook.

(Read More: JPMorgan Says It's Still Not Sold on Japan)

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

Coming Up This Week:

THURSDAY: Natural gas inventories, 30-yr bond auction, Treasury budget, Fed balance sheet/money supply, chain store sales, Nokia event
FRIDAY: Producer price index, consumer sentiment; Earnings from JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Infosys

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