Stock index futures pointed to a flat open on Thursday after two days of market gains as investors digested labor market data and plans by European policymakers to shore up stressed banks.

Wall Street has climbed for two straight sessions, with the rally picking up steam late in the day, spurring concern over volatility. The S&P 500 index has gained 4.1 percent over that period.

New claims for unemployment benefits rose less than expected last week, the government reported, hinting at an improved labor market a day before the closely watched September non-farm payrolls report.

It isn't dramatically beneath what people were expecting, so it's not a real shot in the arm for the economy, said Dan Ripp, president of Bradley Woods & Co Ltd in New York. It was more or less expected, but things are moving in the right direction.

Market relief was building after European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU's top executive body proposed a coordinated recapitalization of banks amid the region's sovereign debt crisis. Officials said nothing was finalized.

Bank stocks were higher in premarket trade. U.S.-listed shares of Barclays Plc rose 2.3 percent to $10.09, while HSBC Holding Plc added 2.4 percent to $38.63. The STOXX Europe 600 banking index <.SX7P> gained 3.4 percent, while the FTSEurofirst 300 index <.FTEU3> rose 1.2 percent.

The market has been waiting for a signal from Europe on how the problem will be dealt with, and this helps us avoid an implosion, Ripp said. The news is a Band-aid, not a solution.

S&P 500 futures were down 3.3 points and below 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 7 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 4.75 points.

Futures cut early-morning gains after the European Central Bank kept interest rates on hold, a move that was expected, though some investors had hoped for a cut.

ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said the economic outlook remains subject to particularly high uncertainty and intensified downside risks, giving a cautious undertone to markets.

Anxiety over the lingering euro-zone debt crisis has pressured domestic equities and contributed to the S&P briefly dipping into bear market territory earlier this week.

Apple Inc will be in focus a day after co-founder Steve Jobs, the driving force behind the creation of the iPod, iPhone and iPad, died at the age of 56. Apple shares fell 0.6 percent to $376.10 premarket.

Deal speculation could lift technology companies. Microsoft Corp was considering a bid for Yahoo Inc , Reuters reported, citing sources. A deal between the two fell apart in 2008.

There was also speculation BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd could be acquired.

Yahoo shares fell 4.3 percent to $15.24 premarket after advancing late Wednesday. U.S.-listed shares of RIM rose 2.5 percent to $24.20 before the bell.

On Friday, the government will report non-farm payrolls data, which is expected to show a return to growth after flat growth in August.

On Wednesday, a report from payrolls processor ADP showed overall private payrolls rose by 91,000, topping forecasts.

U.S. stocks rallied Wednesday as investors bid up materials and energy shares on rising commodity prices and poured into beaten-down technology names after days of selling.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)