A handful of reports on unemployment and hiring showed an improvement in the domestic job market. Investors hope Thursday's data is a preview of what the U.S. employment picture looks like ahead of Friday's monthly jobs report.
The government is expected to report Friday that employers added 120,000 jobs in August, according to economists surveyed by CNNMoney. Investors will be paying especially close attention to Friday 's jobs report, since it will likely influence the Federal Reserve's decision on whether it will announce more quantitative easing at the conclusion of its next meeting on Sept. 12-13.
Across the Atlantic, the ECB announced it would leave interest rates unchanged at 0.75% Thursday morning. Investors are listening to ECB president Mario Draghi 's press conference, where he is expected to offer up details about the bond-buying program.
The plan is expected to be aimed primarily at Spain and Italy, which have been struggling with unsustainably high borrowing costs. Investors' hopes were raised last month, when Draghi said he would do "whatever it takes" to preserve the euro.
Meanwhile, the Bank of England left its benchmark rate unchanged at 0.5%.
U.S. stocks ended little changed Wednesday.
Second-quarter growth in the euro area decreased by 0.2% compared with the previous quarter, according to second estimates released by Eurostat on Thursday. GDP for the eurozone was 0.5% lower than the same quarter last year.
Economy: Employment in the U.S. nonfarm private business sector increased by 201,000 from July to August, according to ADP's National Employment Report. The estimated gain from June to July was revised up, from the initial estimate of 163,000 to a revised estimate of 173,000.
The numbers blew past expectations, as economists surveyed by Briefing.com had forecast an increase of 143,000 jobs.
Another upbeat report showed that jobless claims decreased to 365,000 during the week ending in September 1st , down 12,000 from the previous week's revised 377,000 figure, according to the Labor Department. This is less than the 373,000 claims that were expected by economists surveyed by Briefing.com.
These jobs numbers follow a report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which showed more than 32,000 planned job cuts in August -- fewer layoffs than were announced in July.
At 10 a.m. ET, the Institute for Supply Management will release the August edition of its service-sector index, which is expected to stand at 52.4, down from 52.6 in the month prior.
Companies: Corporate results are due after the bell Thursday from apparel producer Quiksilver ( and gunmaker )Smith & Wesson (. )
Shares of Nokia's ( were lower in premarket trading after plunging more than 15% Wednesday, when the company the introduced two new smartphones. Both devices, which run on the latest Windows 8 operating system, failed to woo investors. )
Shares of Walgreen (Fortune 500) were lower in premarket trading after reporting disappointing August sales. ,
Oil for October delivery rose $1.10 to $96.46 a barrel.
Gold futures for December delivery gained $17.50 to $1,713.80 an ounce.
Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury rose, pushing the yield down to 1.59% from 1.65% late Monday.
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