U.S. stock index futures pointed to a higher open on Thursday after jobless claims dropped and better-than-expected Alcoa results gave a positive tone to the start of the second-quarter earnings season.

Data showed weekly initial claims for jobless benefits fell to their lowest since January, but employment weakness was evidenced by a rise in continued claims.

Shares of Target Corp jumped nearly 5 percent before the bell after the retailer said quarterly profit would meet or beat expectations, even as June same-store sales fell 6.2 percent.

June sales fell at many apparel retailers and warehouse club stores as the weak economy and cool, rainy weather dashed interest in summer shopping.

Alcoa Inc shares rose more than 6 percent premarket, a day after posting a third consecutive quarterly loss, with the deficit less than estimated.

The results provided some relief to skittish investors but Alcoa's smaller loss underscored the toll the recession is taking on corporate earnings.

Dave Rovelli, managing director of U.S. equity trading at Canaccord Adams in New York, said stock futures advanced in response to Alcoa and initial jobless claims going in the right direction, but seasonal changes need to be taken into account to measure the impact of the job figures.

S&P 500 futures rose 9.1 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 62 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 12 points.

The S&P 500 has rallied nearly 40 percent from its 12-year low set in early March on expectations that the economy would rebound from a deep recession. The rally wilted as of late as investors want hard evidence of that recovery.

Crude oil futures rose 1 percent, boosting shares of European petroleum companies and setting a positive tone for the energy sector in New York.

Oil giant Chevron Corp is expected to report interim quarterly results, according to Thomson Reuters.

Another piece of economic data, May wholesale inventories, is due at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT). And results from a 30-year bond Treasury auction, expected at 1 p.m. EDT, will provide further insight into the government's ability to finance spending.

On Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 0.18 percent, the Nasdaq Composite Index added 0.06 percent, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index dropped 0.17 percent in a choppy session.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; additional reporting by Leah Schnurr; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)