Stock index futures edged higher on Thursday as investors took a cautious track ahead of the morning's labor data, a precursor to Friday's monthly jobs report.

Initial jobless claims, due at 8:30 a.m. EDT, are expected to show first-time jobless benefits dipped to 455,000 last week from 457,000 the week before.

The report comes ahead of Friday's closely watched monthly nonfarm payrolls report, with economists forecasting a drop of 65,000 in July as U.S. Census Bureau jobs dried up, while private employers are expected to add 90,000 jobs. Better-than-expected data out of the private sector on Wednesday helped temper some jitters.

Investors have been anxious to see improvement in the jobs market with high unemployment remaining a major roadblock to a sustainable recovery. Worries that the pace of the recovery is slowing have also plagued investors of late.

The S&P 500 held above its 200-day moving average for a third day in a row on Wednesday, indicating positive underlying strength.

S&P 500 futures rose 1.2 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 15 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 4.75 points.

Monthly chain store sales for July are also on tap on Thursday. Costco Wholesale Corp reported a 6 percent rise in July sales, marginally beating estimates.

BP Plc's U.S.-listed shares rose 3.3 percent to $40.67 in premarket trade on hopes its oil well in the Gulf of Mexico will soon be permanently sealed and after U.S. President Barack Obama said the battle to contain the massive oil spill was nearly over.

Earlier Thursday, insurer Cigna Corp reported a far higher-than-expected quarterly profit and raised its full-year forecast.

Stocks rose in thin trade on Wednesday, lifted by retailers' earnings and better-than-expected economic data.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)