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Wall Street upbeat after economic data

Stocks appeared headed for a strong opening Thursday after the government reported that weekly jobless claims dropped to the lowest level since April 2008, providing hope that the job market was improving.

The Labor Department said new applications for jobless claims fell by 4,000 to 364,000 in the latest week, well below the 375,000 Wall Street had expected. 

The 4-week moving average, considered a more accurate barometer of labor market conditions, was 380,250, a decrease of 8,000 from the previous week's revised average of 388,250. 

The news helped keep stocks on track for their third straight day of gains.  

The markets seemed to shrug off news that gross domestic product grew at a 1.8 percent annual rate in the third quarter down from the previously estimated 2 percent.

Volume is expected to remain light as the Christmas holiday draws closer, leaving the market susceptible to heightened volatility. 

European stocks rose 1.1 percent early Thursday, reversing the previous session's losses. Nagging worries over the euro zone debt crisis, despite the European Central Bank's massive loan operation on Tuesday, were seen capping the rebound. 

Yahoo Inc rose 1.6 percent to $16.25 in premarket trade after sources said the company was considering a plan to unload stakes in its prized Asian assets as part of a complicated share transaction. 

European Commission antitrust officials showed no signs of being swayed by Deutsche Boerse's and NYSE Euronext's arguments to save their deal, sources said, and they appeared likely to take their campaign directly to commissioners. 

In Asia, shares fell as doubts remained over whether the ECB's loan operation would flow into struggling euro zone economies and help restore confidence. 

Technology shares slumped Wednesday, pushing the Nasdaq down 1 percent after Oracle Corp's weak quarterly results cast doubts on the sector's health, even as broader markets closed mostly flat in a thinly traded day.