Stock index futures advanced on Thursday before data on the labor market, which may provide investors clues about Friday's key payrolls report.

The ADP national employment report set to be released at 8:15 a.m. was expected to show U.S. private hiring increased 68,000 in June after 38,000 in May, a month that probably took the brunt of temporary factors, such as layoffs from auto shutdowns. It will also give a valuable signal regarding the relative health of the service sector labor market.

Weekly initial jobless claims due at 8:30 a.m. are expected to have fallen slightly to 420,000 in the week ending July 2, from claims of 428,000 the prior week.

Investors may also be optimistic about a resolution to the U.S. debt ceiling debate as President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders were aiming for something big when they resume budget talks on Thursday to avert an imminent default after weeks of impasse.

S&P 500 futures rose 4 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 gained 31 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 6.25 points.

Retailers will also be in focus as they release monthly sales data. Top U.S. retailers are expected to report healthy sales gains for June, helped by bargains that lured shoppers contending with high gasoline prices and a wobbly economy.

U.S. warehouse club operator Costco Wholesale Corp posted a higher-than-expected 14 percent rise in June sales at stores open at least a year, helped by sales of higher-priced gasoline and strengthening foreign currencies.

The New York Stock Exchange was expected to take a crucial step toward ceding control to a German company on Thursday, with little opposition expected from investors. NYSE Euronext shareholders were voting on whether to back a $9.4 billion takeover of the company that owns the NYSE by Deutsche Boerse . The deal was expected to get the needed 50 percent majority support from investors, including T. Rowe Price and other big U.S. fund companies.

European shares rose, reversing the previous session's fall, with trade seen thin ahead of the European Central Bank's rate-setting meeting. <.EU>

The European Central Bank is almost certain to raise interest rates later on Thursday and will show no let-up in its insistence that governments solve Greece's debt crisis without triggering a credit default.

In Asia, China's bank stocks bounced on hopes of a near-term pause in policy tightening.

Transportation stocks were among the standouts in another flat session for U.S. equities on Wednesday, and the sector's rally could be cause for optimism ahead.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Kenneth Barry)