The U.S. stock index futures point to a higher open Thursday ahead of the Department of Labor's weekly jobless claims data.

The futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 0.10 percent, the futures on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index were up 0.22 percent and those on the Nasdaq 100 Index were up 0.26 percent. 

Investors are likely to focus on the weekly U.S. jobless claims data to be reported Thursday. The initial jobless claims report, which measures the number of individuals who filed for unemployment insurance for the first time last week, is expected to rise to 365,000 in the week ending Jan. 5, down from 372,000 in the previous week.

On Wednesday, the U.S. stocks rose as investor sentiment was lifted amid the optimism that the earnings season would reveal encouraging quarterly results from companies. The earnings season, which started on an upbeat note with Alcoa Inc (NYSE: AA) reporting the fourth quarter results Tuesday, is expected to have improved and could witness the markets maintaining the gains made.

S&P 500 revenue dropped 0.8 percent in the third quarter of 2012, according to the figures from Thomson Reuters. It is highly unlikely that such decline would be repeated in the fourth quarter. The expectation is that S&P 500 revenue has risen 1.9 percent in the fourth quarter.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.46 percent, the S&P 500 Index was up 0.27 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index gained 0.45 percent. The overall market breadth of NYSE was positive with 2014 advances against 963 declines. Nasdaq witnessed 859 declines against 1603 advances.

Asian stocks rose Wednesday as investor confidence was lifted by the encouraging economic indicator from China. China’s trade surplus gained in December in comparison to that in the previous month, in an indication that the world’s second-largest economy is reviving its growth momentum.

According to the data released Thursday by the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the country’s trade surplus rose to $31.6 billion in December, against $19.6 billion in November and above the analysts’ expectation of $19.7 billion. China’s exports rose 14.1 percent in December up from 2.9 percent increase in November.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Composite gained 165.21 points, Japan’s Nikkei rose 74.07 points and India’s Sensex was up 23.12 points.

European stocks were mixed Thursday as investors remained watchful amid the concerns of debt crisis affecting the euro zone. London's FTSE 100 was up 8.73 points, Germany's DAX 30 rose 6.67 points and France's CAC 40 declined 10.81 points.