Futures added to gains following a better-than-expected report on jobless claims that came on top of a positive start to earnings season.
The Labor Department said the number of workers filing new claims for jobless insurance fell to a nine-month low last week. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 33,000 to a seasonally adjusted 521,000 in the week ended Oct. 3, the lowest level since early January.
At the same time, earnings season started strong.
A fresh round of optimism was sparked by the unexpected profit from Dow component Alcoa, which kicked off third quarter earnings season on an upbeat note. Markets ended Wednesday trading mixed.
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Alcoa posted earnings after the closing bell Wednesday that beat expectations. Wall Street had expected the aluminum giant to post a narrow loss, but the company actually saw a profit of 8 cents per share.
Alcoa rose 6.3 percent in premarket trading.
Pepsico also beat expectations in a report released before Thursday trading, and the company affirmed its full-year outlook. Its shares rose 1.4 percent premarket.
Investors also got a snapshot of how the nation's retailers are doing, as individual chains report their September sales numbers throughout the morning. Macy's was among the early winners after the retailer posted a drop of 2.4 percent in sales, well below market expectations of 4.6 percent. Its shares rose 2.5 percent premarket.
Other numbers of note today include August wholesale inventories at 10 am, with economists looking for a drop of 1 percent, and the EIA's weekly report on natural gas inventories at 10:30 am.
At 1 pm, the Treasury will auction $12 billion in 30-year bonds, following strong demand at previous auctions this week.
Other stocks to watch include IBM, which is the subject of a Justice Department antitrust probe regarding its behavior in the mainframe computer market. IBM says there is no basis for any such claims.
It's been an active season as well for mergers and acquisitions, but one deal faces troubles.
In a provisional ruling, Britain's competition regulator said a deal between Ticketmaster Entertainment and Live Nation could lead to higher prices and less competition. The US Justice Department also is examining the deal, which was announced earlier this year.
Also across the pond, the European Central Bank and Bank of England, as expected, both held the line on lending rates. The decisions come a day after Australia's central bank raised its lending rate.
Gold prices will bear watching once again, having set yet another record high in Thursday's trading.
The dollar continued its freefall, tumbling further after the Australian dollar jumped on a strong jobs report and strong earnings sent investors to riskier assets.