Stock index futures were higher on Thursday, looking to add to gains in the previous session after the Federal Reserve pledged to keep rates low for an extended period.

The Fed also offered a more upbeat view of the U.S. economy and employment prospects, which helped to boost bank shares.

Investors awaited weekly jobless claims, which could provide insight into the strength of the labor market as well as quarterly results from bellwether companies Exxon Mobil Corp and Proctor & Gamble Co , two Dow components.

Earlier Thursday, Aetna Inc reported first-quarter earnings that beat expectations.

Technology stocks will be in focus a day after Hewlett-Packard Co said it will buy Palm Inc for $1.2 billion, sending Palm shares surging 26 percent to $5.81 in premarket trading.

Visa Inc recorded second-quarter profits that beat expectations late Wednesday and raised its revenue outlook. The credit card giant's chief executive said he was increasingly optimistic about the economy.

S&P 500 futures rose 6.6 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 jumped 43 points, while Nasdaq 100 futures gained 8.25 points.

Financial stocks will be in focus after U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed a Senate vote on Wednesday that opened the way for debate on legislation to overhaul Wall Street regulations.

Other economic data on tap includes the U.S. national activity index for March at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT), and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City manufacturing index for April at 11:00 a.m. EDT.

In Europe, the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index <.FTEU3> of top shares was up nearly 1 percent in early trading. European stocks were pummeled following debt downgrades for Spain on Wednesday, and Greece and Portugal on Tuesday.

Hong Kong shares ended lower, tracking a late sell-off in Chinese stocks.

U.S. stocks closed higher Wednesday after the Fed's statement.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)