NEW YORK Stock index futures pointed a higher open for Wall Street on Thursday, adding to hefty gains from the previous session, boosted by growing optimism about strong corporate earnings.
* Earnings surprises lifted stocks on Wall Street to their best day in a month on Wednesday.
*The Dow <.DJI> rose to its highest in almost three years and the S&P 500 <.SOX> broke decidedly above its 20-day moving average, setting a near-term target at 1,340, according to its Bollinger bands chart, a technical indicator that tracks momentum and volatility.
* Continuing the upbeat mood after markets closed, iPhone-maker Apple Inc posted results that surged past analysts' forecasts.
* Further earnings are expected to dominate the trading session, with bellwether General Electric and lender Morgan Stanley among the major firms scheduled to release results before markets open.
* GE's profit is expected to rise to 28 cents per share from 21 cents per share one year ago, while Morgan Stanley is seen posting earnings of 34 cents, down from $1.03 a year ago.
* Hamburger chain McDonald's will also report earnings, with focus likely to be on its power to raise prices as food and fuel costs climb. Analysts expect a 2 percent rise in March sales at established U.S. restaurants.
* Economic data is also likely to provide direction for equities in the last day of trading of the week ahead of the Good Friday holiday.
* Weekly jobless claims are due at 1230 GMT, while February home prices data and the Philadelphia Fed's index of business conditions for the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region for April are both due at 1400 GMT.
* In company news, BP has filed a lawsuit against Halliburton , the company that cemented the blown-out well which caused the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a day after claiming $40 billion from rig owner Transocean .
* Italian automaker Fiat SpA has agreed to pay $1.27 billion euros for another 16 percent stake in U.S. peer Chrysler this quarter, the Italian automaker said on Thursday, in a deal that was faster and cheaper than expected.
* Schneider Electric SA's chief executive essentially ruled out a takeover of Tyco International Ltd by saying the French engineering giant does not plan any purchases larger than a few billion euros over the next year.
* In Europe, the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 <.FTEU3> index of top shares edged higher in early trade, with technology shares gaining on the back of Apple's upbeat results.
* Dollar weakness continued to underpin commodity prices, with gold hitting record highs for the fifth day as the dollar index slipped to a three-year low.
(Reporting by Harpreet Bhal; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)