Stock index futures rose on Thursday following another string of stronger-than-expected quarterly corporate profits, a broker upgrade for General Electric Co , and fresh indications that the global economic downturn is easing.

Companies posting solid results before the bell included AON Corp and industrial conglomerate Tyco International Ltd .

Goldman Sachs raised its recommendation on GE to buy, saying comments made by the chairman of a key congressional committee suggests a decreased chance of a break up of the finance arm of the diversified industrial manufacturer.

U.S. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank in an interview with Bloomberg late on Wednesday suggested there was broadening support for regulatory reform that would not mandate the separation of GE Capital, Goldman analysts said.

GE shares rose 5.5 percent to $12.94 before the bell.

A lot of this is a follow up of the resilience we've seen in the market over a couple of weeks. The clear sentiment is to be buying on any dips, said Matt McCall, president of Penn Financial Group in Ridgewood, New Jersey.

We get buying into the close on a consistent basis. The trend right now is higher. We have earnings improving, and that's giving people the reason buy.

S&P 500 futures rose 6.6 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures climbed 53 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures were 8.5 points higher.

Investor sentiment was also buoyed by signs that the global recession is abating following upbeat economic reports from Europe.

European stocks were up more than 1 percent after data showed July euro zone economic sentiment rose to its highest level in eight months, while German unemployment unexpectedly fell for the first time in July.

International Paper Co posted a 40 percent drop in second-quarter profit but said the worst of the economic downturn had passed, and it was seeing improvements in some markets. [ID:nN30329697]. IP shares rose 3.3 percent to $19 in premarket trading.

Motorola Inc shares rose 3.5 percent to $6.80 before the bell after the mobile phone maker swung to a quarterly profit.

Exxon Mobil Corp shares fell 1 percent after it reported second-quarter earnings.

The U.S. economic calendar includes the weekly report on initial jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. (1230 GMT). A Reuters survey of economists forecast claims to have risen to 570,000 from 554,000 the previous week.

Also on the calendar is a record $28 billion 7-year note auction from the U.S. Treasury, which could make investors cautious on the heels of poor demand for two government auctions this week.

(Reporting by Ellis Mnyandu; Editing by Padraic Cassidy)