U.S. stocks advanced in early trade on Thursday after official data showed that applications for jobless benefits fell last week.

The S&P 500 Index gained 1.84 points, or 0.14 percent, to trade at 1,337.18 at 9:50 a.m. EDT. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 10.41 points, or 0.08 percent, to trade at 12,437.16. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 0.32 percent.

The Department of Labor reported that initial jobless claims declined by 10,000 to 382,000 for the week ended April 2 from the previous week's revised figure of 392,000, while economists expected 385,000. The 4-week moving average of initial claims decreased 5,750 to 389,500 from the previous week's revised average of 395,250.

Most of the U.S. retailers reported better than expected same-store sales results in March despite poor weather and higher gasoline prices. Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ:COST) shares gained 2.87 percent and Macy's Inc. (NYSE:M) gained 2.78 percent after reporting better than expected March sales.

Bed Bath & Beyond, Inc. (NASDAQ:BBBY) stock advanced 10 percent as its fourth quarter earnings and revenue topped Street view. Profit was $283.5 million or $1.12 a share, up from $226 million or $0.86 a share last year. Sales rose 11.6 percent to $2.5 billion. Analysts had expected profit of $0.97 a share on revenue of $2.39 billion.

The European Central Bank (ECB) has raised interest rates to 1.25 percent from 1.00 percent. The move was clearly telegraphed by ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet and widely expected by analysts and market participants. This rate hike came after the ECB kept interest rates at the unprecedented low level of 1.00 percent since May 2009.

European stock markets are currently trading mixed with FTSE 100 down by 4.74 points and DAX30 down by 0.07 points, while CAC 40 up by 8.13 points.

Crude oil futures advanced 0.08 percent to $108.92/barrel and gold futures declined 0.05 percent.