U.S. stock index futures pointed to a higher open on Thursday as investors braced for results of the stress tests for banks, while strong earnings from Cisco may help boost the tech sector.

The results of government stress tests on the ability of the 19 largest banks to weather a deep recession will be released at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) and are expected to show about half of the banks need more capital.

Leaked test results on Wednesday gave investors some clarity over how well the industry will cope with perhaps the most severe recession since World War Two, pushing the S&P 500 index to its best close since January 6.

Financial stocks rose in premarket trade ahead of the stress tests. Bank of America Corp , upgraded by two analysts, and Citigroup Inc were both up more than 10 percent.

There is a lot of optimistic expectations suddenly built in, said Barry Ritholtz, director of equity research at Fusion IQ in New York.

There are a lot of expectations on the green shoots, that the job numbers aren't going to be that bad, the retail numbers aren't going to be that bad, so you end up with expectations that things are going to get better.

S&P 500 futures rose 6.60 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 added 57 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures gained 0.25 points.

Tech stocks may get a boost after Cisco Systems Inc reported stronger-than-expected quarterly results late Wednesday, and Chief Executive John Chambers said his customers were seeing more stability, adding to hopes that business conditions would soon recover.

General Motors Corp shares rose 5.4 percent to $1.75 in premarket trade after the beleaguered automaker reported

first-quarter results and said it still wants to avoid bankruptcy.

On the economic front, investors awaited a report on weekly jobless numbers, with analysts expecting a slight increase in initial claims to 635,000.

Retailers will report monthly sales results for April. Among the first, Costco Wholesale posted flat same-store sales, although they were down 8 percent including fuel sales.

European shares rose early Thursday, on track for the main index's first seven-day winning streak since August 2007. The Bank of England voted to leave interest rates at a record low of 0.5 percent and said it will increase the size of its quantitative easing program by 50 billion pounds to 125 billion.

Asian shares extended their rally on Thursday as encouraging signs about the health of U.S. banks and the global economy bolstered riskier assets such as oil and hurt safe-havens such as the yen.

Stocks rose Wednesday after a private-sector reading on the labor market signaled unemployment may be receding and leaked bank stress test results suggested most institutions are healthier than thought.

Since hitting a 12-year closing low in March, the S&P has surged 36 percent, driven by optimism about the financial systems's condition and hopes the recession may be waning.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)