Stock index futures edged higher on Thursday as investors awaited data on the health of the hobbled labor market, which poses a potential hurdle for the nascent economic recovery.

Going into the final trading day of the year, the broad S&P 500 is up nearly 25 percent for 2009, on track for its best performance since 2003. The gains come on the heels of a 38.5 percent slide in 2008, Wall Street's worst year since the Great Depression.

It's been such a furious rally from the March lows that the last couple days have had the same pattern of investor exhaustion, said Rick Meckler, president of investment firm LibertyView Capital Management in New York.

For most people 2009 was the recovery from the abyss. We entered the year at amazingly pessimistic levels and with some very, very serious challenges toward keeping the financial system going.

Weekly data on initial jobless benefit claims is due at 8:30 a.m. EST. Economists expect first-time claims to edge up to 460,000 compared with 452,000 in the previous week.

S&P 500 futures rose 2.6 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 added 10 points and the Nasdaq 100 futures added 2.25 points.

World stocks <.MIWD00000PUS> headed toward their best annual performance on record Thursday, albeit a year after suffering their worst. MSCI's all-country stock index was up about 0.4 percent on the day for an annual gain of more than 32 percent.

Volume is expected to be light Thursday as investors cool their heels, with many out for the holidays. The market is closed Friday for New Year's Day.

In a reminder the economy and the financial system are both still fragile, the U.S. government is injecting another $3.8 billion into GMAC Financial Services to help cover mortgage losses. The bailout makes the government the majority owner of the auto and home finance company.

A top executive at American International Group Inc has resigned because of pay curbs imposed by the Obama Administration's pay czar, the company said Wednesday.

Most of this year's surge came in a nine-month rally that started in March, as investors turned bullish on an economic recovery. The S&P is up 66.5 percent since March's 12-year low.

Stocks ended a smidgen higher in very light trading Wednesday, with the Dow and Nasdaq eking out fresh highs for the year.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)