U.S. stocks advanced in early trade on Thursday after official data showed that applications for jobless benefits in the U.S. fell unexpectedly last week to reach the lowest level since May 2008, indicating an improving labor market.
The S&P 500 Index gained 13.73 points, or 1.05 percent, to trade at 1,322.34 at 9:35 a.m. EDT. The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 107.47 points, or 0.89 percent, to trade at 12,174.27. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 1.24 percent.
Initial jobless claims in the US decreased by 20,000 to 368,000 compared with the revised figure of 388,000 in the previous week, while markets had expected the jobless claims to rise 400,000 in the week. Also, the seasonally adjusted four-week moving average of initial claims, considered as a more accurate measure of employment trends than the weekly number, decreased by 12,750 to 401,250.
The weekly jobless claims data comes a day ahead of the government's monthly nonfarm payrolls report, which is the most closely-watched economic data pertaining to the jobs market and a key gauge for the direction and pace of the economic recovery.
Nonfarm business productivity rose at a 2.6 percent annual rate during October-to-December period against economists’ expectations of 2.6 percent.
On the corporate front, Big Lots Inc. (NYSE:BIG) shares gained 4.11 percent as its fourth quarter profit and first quarter guidance beat estimates.
Shares of Zumiez Inc. (NASDAQ:ZUMZ) surged 7.56 percent as its February same-store sales climbed 12.8 percent against analysts’ estimation of 4.2 percent.
The euro advanced 0.53 percent to 1.3939 against the dollar and the yen declined 0.49 percent against the greenback.
Crude oil futures declined 0.91 percent to $101.30/barrel after reports of a possible peace deal in Libya, gold futures declined 0.87 percent.
European stock markets are currently trading higher with FTSE 100 up by 78.96 points, DAX30 up by 77.30 points and CAC 40 up by 42.89 points.