Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange January 10, 2012. REUTERS

(REUTERS) -- Stock index futures rose on Thursday after well-received European sovereign debt auctions encouraged investors ahead of job market and retail sales data expected to show the U.S. economy is steadily recovering.

* Italian and Spanish government bond yields fell sharply after strong auctions were taken as an encouraging sign in their 2012 funding quest.

* S&P 500 futures hit fresh 5-month highs after the auctions as investors awaited an interest rate decision from the European Central Bank. The ECB was seen taking a breather this month after back-to-back interest rate cuts.

* S&P 500 futures rose 7.3 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration of the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures gained 50 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 11 points.

* On the U.S. macroeconomic front, weekly jobless claims data will be released at 8:30 a.m. EST. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a total of 375,000 new filings, compared with 372,000 in the prior week.

* The Commerce Department releases December retail sales also at 8:30 a.m. Economists expect a 0.3 percent rise, compared with a 0.2 percent increase in November.

* Other data includes business inventories for November, due at 10 a.m. EST.

* Stocks held firm near recent five-month highs on Wednesday, recovering from early losses.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)