|Stocks were set to extend their September rally Thursday after another report indicated modest improvements in the job markets.
The Labor Department said the number of people requesting unemployment benefits for the first time fell to the lowest level in two months, adding to signs that employers aren't resorting to staff cuts as economic growth slows.
First-time claims fell to 451,000 last week from a revised 478,000 a week earlier. Economists had been expecting claims to fall to 470,000, according to Thomson Reuters.
Claims are still at levels that indicate the jobs market is weak and rapid hiring isn't likely anytime soon. But investors have taken solace in recent improvements in employment data that suggest the economy will continue to grow slowly during the rest of the year. Traders concerned about the potential for the economy falling back into recession drove stocks lower throughout August.
But stocks have rallied since the beginning of the month as economic indicators, including the Labor Department's monthly employment report, have been better than forecast.
Employment reports have become investors' primary focus recently because without robust hiring, the economy is likely to remain sluggish. People worried about their jobs have cut back on spending, which further slows the recovery. When the economy is growing rapidly and companies are hiring, weekly requests for unemployment benefits fall below 400,000.
Ahead of the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 54, or 0.5 percent, to 10,446. Standard & Poor's 500 index futures rose 7.20, or 0.7 percent, to 1,106.50, while Nasdaq 100 index futures rose 13.50, or 0.7 percent, to 1,891.00.
That Dow has gained 3.7 percent since the beginning of September. Stocks have climbed all but one day so far this month. Major indexes took a pause from the recent rally on Tuesday when worries about European government debt problems flared up early in the week.
After some European nations successfully auctioned new debt this week, those worries have dissipated. European markets got an additional lift after the U.S. jobs report. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 1.1 percent, Germany's DAX index gained 0.8 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 1.2 percent.
There were concerns during the spring that mounting European debt would stunt a global recovery. Stocks fell sharply through much of the spring because of those worries.
Meanwhile, bond prices traded in a tight range. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 2.68 percent from 2.66 percent late Wednesday. Its yield is often used to help set interest rates on mortgages and other consumer loans.