Stock index futures pointed to a higher start on Wall Street on Thursday ahead of Wal-Mart Stores Inc results and U.S. July retail sales data.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is due to report earnings per share of $0.85 in the second quarter, compared with $0.86 a year earlier, according to a Reuters survey of 22 analysts. Wal-Mart shares in Frankfurt were down 0.2 percent.

U.S. retail sales for July is due at 8:30 a.m. EDT. Economist in a Reuters survey expect a 0.7 percent rise compared with a 0.6 percent rise in June, and excluding automobiles sales are seen up 0.1 percent compared with a 0.3 percent decline in the prior month.

The U.S. Labor Department will release weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. EDT. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a total of 545,000 new filings compared with 550,000 in the prior week.

U.S. unemployment levels are likely to stay higher for longer following the country's severe recession and ongoing banking crisis, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released on Wednesday.

In Europe, Germany and France enjoyed a surprising return to economic growth in the second quarter of the year, ending their recessions earlier than many policymakers and economists had expected.

European shares rose 0.7 percent, with sentiment improving after the U.S. Federal Reserve said the U.S. economy was showing signs of leveling out and after growth data from Germany and France. <.EU>

The euro rose against the dollar and yen after the GDP data from Germany and France.

Hedge fund manager John Paulson, who made a fortune betting against financial companies after foreseeing the credit crisis, stocked up on shares of Bank of America during the second quarter, a regulatory filing showed. Bank of America shares in Frankfurt rose 4.8 percent.

Citigroup Inc has been forced by U.S. regulators to hire external consultants who will consider whether the New York company's current management is capable of leading it out of financial crisis, the Financial Times reported on its website.

Other U.S. data to be released include import/export prices for July, due at 8:30 a.m. EDT, and business inventories for June, due at 1400 GMT.

Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc, Kohls Corp, Nordstrom, Estee Lauder Co Inc and Autodesk Inc are also due to release their second quarter results on Thursday.

Anheuser-Busch InBev reported second-quarter profit above analyst forecasts, but said the second half of the year would be significantly weaker.

Large U.S. food companies, including Kraft Foods Inc , General Mills Inc and Hershey Co , said the country could virtually run out of sugar unless the Obama administration eased import curbs, the Wall Street Journal said.

Monsanto Co said on Wednesday chief financial officer Terry Crews would retire after 32 years at what has grown to become the world's largest seed company, as it tackles new competitive threats.

The Pentagon may want to consider scaling back Lockheed Martin Corp's multinational F-35 fighter program, the costliest-ever U.S. arms-purchase plan, as part of stepped-up budget belt-tightening, an analysis by an influential research group said.

U.S. stocks powered higher on Wednesday as the Fed said it saw signs of a more stable economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 120.16 points, or 1.30 percent, to close at 9,361.61. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> rose 11.46 points, or 1.15 percent, to 1,005.81. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> added 28.99 points, or 1.47 percent, to 1,998.72.

(Reporting by Dominic Lau; Editing by Hans Peters)