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 4.62 points, or 0.34 percent, to trade at 1,345.45 at 9:40 a.m. EDT. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 43.82 points, or 0.35 percent, to trade at 12,604.00. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 0.36 percent.

The Department of Labor reported that initial jobless claims declined by 29,000 to 409,000 for the week ended may 14 from the previous week's revised figure of 438,000, while economists expected 420,000. The 4-week moving average of initial claims increased 1,250 to 439,000 from the previous week's revised average of 437,750.

Existing home sales, which measure the annualized number of existing residential buildings that were sold during the previous month, is due to be released at 10:00 a.m. E.D.T. Economists are forecasting that existing home sales in April may gain to 5.22 million from 5.10 million in March.

On the corporate front, Intel Corp. (NASDAQ:INTC) shares declined 2.35 percent to $23.32 after the company stock was downgraded to “sell” rating from “neutral” rating at Goldman Sachs.

Big Lots Inc. (NYSE:BIG) shares slumped 9.67 percent to $34.10 on news that the company decided not to sell itself after bids from private equity firms did not value the company appropriately.

The euro declined 0.01 percent to 1.4248 against the dollar and the yen declined 0.55 percent against the greenback.

Crude oil futures declined 0.49 percent to $99.61/barrel and gold futures declined 0.51 percent.

European stock markets are currently trading higher with FTSE 100 up by 69.07 points, DAX30 up by 102.94 points and CAC 40 up by 63.46 points.