Stocks opened higher on Thursday as a sharp fall in the number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits spurred optimism about the labor market and the pace of an economic recovery.

* Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits fell 38,000 to a seasonally adjusted 550,000 in the week ended August 1 from a revised 588,000 the prior week, according to the Labor Department.

* The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> gained 17.69 points, or 0.19 percent, to 9,298.66. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> rose 3.03 points, or 0.30 percent, to 1,005.75. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> added 6.09 points, or 0.31 percent, to 1,999.14.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Padraic Cassidy)