Stocks are likely to see considerable strength in early trading on Thursday, extending a recent upward move. The major index futures are currently indicating a notably higher open for the markets, with the Dow futures currently up 71 points.

After seeing some earlier strength, the futures have seen some further upside in recent trading after the Labor Department released a report showing an unexpected decrease in initial jobless claims in the week ended May 2.

The report showed that jobless claims fell to 601,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 635,000. Economists had been expecting jobless claims to edge up to 635,000 from the 631,000 originally reported for the previous week.

At the same time, the Labor Department said that continuing claims continued to rise in the week ended April 25, rising to a new record high of 6.351 million from the preceding week's revised level of 6.95 million.

While the unexpected decrease in jobless claims provides further signs of stabilization in the struggling labor market, the continued increase in continuing claims reflects the difficulty in finding new jobs.

A separate report released by the Labor Department showed that labor productivity increased by more than expected in the first three months of the year, although the report also showed a bigger than expected increase in labor costs.

On the corporate front, shares of Cisco (CSCO) are likely to be in focus after the networking giant reported third quarter earnings that fell year-over-year but came in better than analysts had expected on better than expected sales.

Cisco reported adjusted third quarter earnings of $0.30 per share on sales of $8.2 billion, down from earnings of $0.38 per share on sales of $9.8 billion in the year ago quarter. Analysts had expected earnings of $0.25 per share on sales of $8.1 billion.

Auto giant General Motors (GM) also recently released its quarterly results, reporting a first quarter loss that was much wider than in the year-ago quarter but narrower than analysts had been expecting. The company also reported a steep drop in sales for the quarter.

On an adjusted basis, GM reported a net loss of $9.66 per share compared to a loss of $0.67 per share in the same quarter of last year. The adjusted loss compared to analyst estimates of a loss of $11.05 per share.

Retail stocks are also likely to attract some attention, as a number of retailers release their sales results for the month of April. Retail giant Wal-Mart (WMT) said its same store sales rose 5 percent in April, exceeding analyst estimates of 2.9 percent growth.

Stocks moved mostly higher over the course of the trading day on Wednesday, as traders reacted positively to some much better than expected employment data as well as reports suggesting that several of the financial companies examined by the government don't need additional capital.

After showing a strong upward move in early trading, stocks turned lower over the course of the morning but moved back to the upside in the afternoon. The Dow eventually ended the session up more than 100 points.

Crude oil futures are advancing $1.78 to $58.12 a barrel after rising $2.50 to $56.34 a barrel in the previous session. Gold futures are also seeing further upside after rising $6.70 to $911 an ounce on Wednesday, trading up $9.90 at $920.90 an ounce.

On the currency front, the U.S. dollar is trading at 99.45 yen, stronger than the 98.319 yen it fetched at the close of trading on Wednesday. Against the euro, the greenback is currently valued at $1.3336 versus yesterday's $1.3334.

In overseas trading, most stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region extended their recent upward moves. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index jumped 4.6 percent after the Japanese market was closed for the three previous sessions.

The major European markets are also turning in strong performances, with the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index currently up 2.6 percent, while the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index are up 1.9 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.

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