Futures Add to Gains After Jobless Claims Data

U.S. stock index futures added to modest gains Thursday after jobless claims dropped to their lowest level since 2008, pointing to signs of an improving labor market.

On the economic front, weekly jobless claims tumbled 30, 000 to a seasonally adjusted 339, 000, hitting the lowest level since February 2008, according to the Labor Department. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims edging up to 370, 0000 last week. The four-week moving average for new claims fell 11, 500 to 364, 000.

Meanwhile, U.S. trade deficit increased to $44.2 billion in August, mostly in line with analyst expectations, according to the Commerce Department. Overall exports dropped 1 percent as concerns over Europe continued to put pressure on global growth. And imports fell 0.1 percent.

European shares traded higher after Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, said late on Wednesday that Greece should be allowed extra time to meet its budget goals .

However, the Spanish IBEX dragged after Standard & Poor's downgraded Spain's debt rating to one notch above junk grade and put the country on negative outlook. Market participants hope this will push Madrid to request a formal bailout.

Meanwhile, central banks in Brazil and South Korea cut rates by a quarter percentage point.

Sprint soared after the Wall Street Journal reported that Japan's Softbank is in "advanced" talks to buy a $12.8 billion stake in the wireless communications company.

Caterpillar was downgraded to "sector perform" from "outperform" at RBC Capital amid headwinds including elevated inventories both for Caterpillar and the overall earth-moving equipment industry, in addition to weakness in Europe and China.

The U.S. Treasury is set to auction $13 billion 30-year bonds on Thursday, with results available shortly after 1pm ET.

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

Coming Up This Week:

THURSDAY: Oil inventories, 30-yr bond auction
FRIDAY: PPI, consumer sentiment, GM resumes Volt production; Earnings from JPMorgan, Wells Fargo

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