U.S. stock index futures advanced on Thursday a day after suffering its biggest losses in nearly a year as investors waited for more clues on the strength of the economy ahead of Friday's jobs data.

Reports on tap later in the day includes U.S. weekly jobless claims, due at 8:30 a.m. EDT and factory orders at 10 a.m. EDT. (1400 GMT)

Jobless claims are expected to fall to 415,000 versus the prior week's 424,000, according to a Thomson Reuters poll of economists. Factory orders are seen declined by 1 percent, compared with the prior month's 3.4 percent increase.

Retailers will post monthly sales, which are expected to show higher gasoline prices crimping consumer demand for summer clothing and other discretionary items.

U.S. warehouse club operator Costco Wholesale Corp beat estimates, with a 13 percent rise in May same-store sales, helped by higher gas prices.

S&P 500 futures gained 3.4 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 24 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures climbed 10 points.

A high unemployment rate means the Federal Reserve's ultra-easy monetary policies remained the right course of action, top Fed officials said Wednesday. High unemployment is not a quickly resolvable problem, but April's job gains showed the recovery is on a firmer footing, Cleveland Fed President Sandra Pianalto said.

Chinese hackers are suspected of trying to steal passwords from hundreds of Google email accounts, including senior U.S. government officials, Chinese activists and journalists, the Internet company said. China's Foreign Ministry denied the accusations.

U.S. officials softened rules that could have cut off tuition aid to some programs run by for-profit colleges. Corinthian Colleges Inc jumped 10.3 percent to $4.40, and Apollo Group Inc gained 6.7 percent to $45 in premarket trade.

European shares fell early Thursday, adding to losses in the previous session as weak economic data fueled worries the U.S. recovery was losing momentum and as Moody's downgraded Greek debt. <.EU>

In Asia, markets tumbled Thursday on heightened concerns about the global economic outlook, while political woes in Japan added to Tokyo selling as Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he would resign after he gets a nuclear crisis under control.

Wall Street ended a four-day rally with its worst session since August on Wednesday and could suffer more losses in coming days as investors worried over the state of the recovery.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)