* Thursday's session will be abbreviated for Christmas Eve, and the markets will be closed on Friday for Christmas.
* Two pieces of economic data that could give clues on the strength of a recovery -- November durable good orders and weekly jobless claims -- are due at 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT).
* Orders for long-lasting goods are expected to rise 0.5 percent after dropping 0.6 percent in October, while initial jobless claims are seen falling by 15,000 from the prior week. A decline suggests improvement in the battered labor market, considered one of the biggest headwinds facing the economy.
* S&P 500 futures rose 3.5 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 gained 34 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 2.75 points.
* Shares of healthcare companies will be in the spotlight as the U.S. Senate is poised to approve President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul. While the proposed reform has been pressuring health insurance stocks, analysts say the overhaul won't hurt the sector as much as previously thought. The Senate was set to vote at 7 a.m. EST (1200 GMT).
* No companies are scheduled to report quarterly results.
* The U.S. dollar index <.DXY> fell 0.4 percent, coming off three-month highs against a basket of currencies a day after weak U.S. housing data was released.
* Overseas, Japan's Nikkei average <.N225> rose 1.5 percent to close at a three-month high as a weaker yen boosted exporters, while Europe's leading share index rose for a fourth straight session Thursday and remained on track to post its best yearly gains in a decade.
* Dow component Chevron Corp agreed late Wednesday to pay almost $46 million to settle charges it underpaid royalties owed for natural gas produced from federal and Indian leases, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
* The Dow industrials eked out a fourth straight day of gains in Wednesday's session, helped by solid earnings from technology companies, though an unexpected drop in new home sales limited advances.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)