Stock index futures rose on Thursday as upbeat data from China and Europe fueled optimism the global economy is on track for growth.

Meanwhile, investors are awaiting a batch of U.S. economic data, including weekly initial jobless claims, due at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT). Economists forecast 440,000 claims versus 442,000 in the previous week.

Overseas, China's vast manufacturing sector shifted gears in March as orders climbed, two business surveys showed Thursday, pointing to brisk first-quarter GDP growth.

And manufacturing activity in the euro zone grew at its fastest pace in over three years last month, and faster than previously recorded.

Japan's business morale improved in March for the fourth consecutive quarter and to the highest in more than a year, a Bank of Japan survey showed.

Continued upturn in manufacturing sentiment globally, from China, Japan and Europe, is underscoring the notion that industrial recovery is indeed on the way, and that is adding optimism to the futures market here, said Craig Peckham, equity trading strategist at Jefferies & Co in New York.

S&P 500 futures rose 5.1 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 50 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 5.75 points.

Ahead of Friday's payrolls, investors are putting more weight on jobless claims data since markets will be closed on Friday for the Good Friday holiday.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on NBC television's Today program the U.S. unemployment rate, currently at 9.7 percent, will remain unacceptably high for some time.

Other economic data coming later Thursday includes the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing survey for March, which will be released at 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT). Economists forecast a reading of 57, up from 56.5 in the previous month.

Construction spending data for February is also due at 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT). Economists expect a drop of 1 percent versus a decline of 0.6 percent in the previous month.

In company news, BlackBerry smartphone maker Research in Motion Ltd said quarterly profit and sales rose, but lagged expectations. The stock fell more than 5 percent to $70.11 in premarket trade.

Micron Technology Inc delivered only its second quarterly profit in nearly three years after the bell Wednesday as a recovering economy helped lift prices for its DRAM memory chips well beyond Wall Street expectations.

Monthly car sales from Ford Motor Co and the other big carmakers are expected throughout the day.

U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday as a report showing a surprising drop in private-sector employment stoked concerns about the health of the labor market.

The S&P 500 <.SPX> is up 72.9 percent since the March 2009 bottom. For the first quarter and for the year as well, the Dow industrials average <.DJI> is up 4.1 percent, while the S&P 500 is up 4.9 percent and Nasdaq <.IXIC> is up 5.7 percent.

(Reporting by Angela Moon; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)