A worse-than-expected report on U.S. unemployment claims Thursday offset the positive tone set by the Bank of Japan, which had announced an anti-deflation program that exceeded already sky-high expectations.
U.S. stock futures were higher ahead of the opening bell, maintaining their gains despite the jobless report.
The U.S. Labor Department said that initial jobless claims rose to 385,000 last week. That was much more than the 345,000 claims that were forecast, according to Briefing.com.
The report comes one day ahead of the government's closely watched monthly jobs report. Economists expect 192,000 jobs to have been added in March, according to Briefing.com.
In other news, Japan's central bank announced plans to expand its stimulus program in an effort to breathe life into the country's flagging economy.
The move was welcomed by investors. Japan's Nikkei reversed early losses and closed 2.2% higher, the yen weakened against the dollar and the yield on Japanese 10-year notes fell to their lowest level since 2003.
Separately, the European Central Bank kept rates at historic lows of 0.75% and the Bank of England left rates at 0.5% and maintained its asset purchasing program.
U.S. stocks fell Wednesday on rising worries about North Korea and the suggestion from San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank president John Williams that the central bank could start pulling back on its stimulus program this summer.
In corporate news, Lululemon Athletic ( said its chief product officer Sheree Waterson was leaving, effective April 15. The announcement comes after Lululemon issued a recall last month of unintentionally )see-through yoga pants.
Shares of Carnival Corp. ( slumped 2%, a day after the troubled cruise liner's Triumph broke free of its dock in Mobile, Ala. )
Investors will also be monitoring an Android-related press event hosted by Facebook ( and scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET. Industry watchers )have speculated that the social network could reveal its own Android-based smartphone.
European markets were mixed in morning trading. Exchanges in Hong Kong and Shanghai were closed for a holiday.