U.S. stock index futures edged higher ahead of the open Thursday after a report that jobless claims fell to a three-month low, and in the wake of a mixed close in the previous session on worries over the Federal Reserve's next move on quantitative easing from its policy meeting next week.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 21,000 to 434,000, the lowest level since early July, according to the Labor Department. Analysts had expected claims to rise to 458,000, according to Breifing.com.
A spate of earnings were released early Thursday as well.Shares of Dow component Exxon Mobil were slightly higher in the pre-market after the energy giant reported strong profits, but revenues that fell short of expectations. Another stock on the Dow, 3M , fell in pre-market trading afterreleasing a disappointing outlook, despite reporting profits and revenues that beat expectations.
Shares of Dow Chemical , meanwhile, rose after the largest U.S. chemical maker posted a better-than-expected quarterly profit due to strong sales of chlorine, basic plastic, and lubricants.
Motorola , which plans to split into two companies next year, posted an operating profit of $3 million, versus a loss of $183 million a year ago, thanks to sales of smartphones based on Google's Android software.
AutoNation's third-quarter earningsmissed expectations, and the auto retailer projected future auto sales will continue to be slow.
European shares were higher with strong corporate earnings boosting the major indexes. Shares of Royal Dutch Shell were higher in London after the oil major beat analyst forecasts with an 18 percent jump in third-quarter profit. Asian markets were mostly in the green, but Japanese stocks saw declines.
In merger and acquisition news, Sanofi-Aventisstood pat on its $18.5 billion hostile bid for Genzyme , despite posting better-than-expected quarterly earnings. Shares of Sanofi-Aventis were higher.
In other news, Wells Fargo drew criticism of its handling of foreclosures during the financial crisis after saying it will re-file documents on 55,000 foreclosures.
There has been much speculation over the past two weeks on whether the Fed will start an aggressive second course of money printing or on whether it will prefer to buy assets gradually. In one of the latest comments on the issue, well-known Goldman Sachs strategist Abby Joseph Cohen said on CNBC that the Fed likely will begin its latest round of monetary easing by buying $500 billion of Treasury debt and ultimately as much as $1 trillion.
THURSDAY: Natural gas inventories, 7-year note auction; after-the-bell earnings from Microsoft and MetLife.
FRIDAY: GDP, employment cost index, Chicago PMI, consumer sentiment, farm prices; before-the-bell earnings from Chevron, Merck and Cigna.
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