Stock index futures rose on Thursday following two days of declines for the S&P 500 after upbeat European economic data and ahead of an expected drop in U.S. jobless claims.

First-time applications for unemployment insurance are expected to fall to 459,000 in the latest week from 464,000 in the prior week, according to a Reuters poll. The U.S. Labor Department data is due at 8:30 a.m. EDT.

Euro zone economic sentiment rose to a 28-month high in July while German unemployment fell to its lowest level since November 2008, boosting hopes for a pickup in the consumer sector.

The strong business confidence and German unemployment data will support a rise in the U.S. markets, said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont.

Despite failing to repeat Monday's close above its 200-day moving average, technical measures including the daily moving average convergence-divergence, or MACD, show the S&P 500 in a strong technical position.

Technically (the market) still looks fine here and I don't see why we can't move higher, Mendelsohn said.

S&P 500 futures rose 6.9 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 58 points and Nasdaq 100 futures added 7.25 points.

Major companies reporting results on Thursday include Kellogg Co , MetLife Inc and Eastman Chemical Co .

BP Plc may permanently shut the well that caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history as early as Monday, as speculation grew over assets it might sell to cover clean-up costs.

France's Sanofi-Aventis plans to make a formal offer of up to $18.7 billion for Genzyme Corp after an informal overture failed to strike interest, sources said.

U.S.-traded shares of AstraZeneca Plc rose more than 2 percent premarket as the drug company doubled its share buyback program after posting strong results.

U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday after weak durable goods data and a downbeat economic assessment from the Federal Reserve's Beige Book kept the benchmark S&P 500 trapped below its 200-day moving average.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)