Stocks: Fed puts record highs within reach

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Stocks look set to make gains Thursday on the back of dovish comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, bringing record highs within reach.

U.S. stock futures were all up by roughly 1% as markets around the world rallied.

European markets also gained, by less than 1%, in midday trading and major Asian markets ended with big gains.

The global rise in equities is being attributed to comments late Wednesday by Bernanke, who said monetary policy would remain "highly accommodative" for the foreseeable future.

Recent moves and comments by global central banks have helped boost equities as they continue to pump more money into the system in a bid to get the economy growing.

Investors clearly welcomed Bernanke's comments as good news for the markets. David Jones, chief market strategist at IG Markets in London, said the comments were not "fantastically bullish," but it may have been the lack of bad news that truly motivated the rally.

"Maybe people were expecting the worse, and when the worse didn't happen, everyone bought," he said.

The Shanghai Composite index surged by 3.2% and the Hang Seng index shot up by 2.6%.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei index moved 0.4% higher after the country's central bank said it would continue expanding its balance sheet. Jones said that comments from Japan's central bank have helped to buoy international markets.

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Meanwhile, U.S. stocks finished mixed Wednesday. Stocks initially jumped after the Fed released minutes showing officials are split on when to end the central bank's controversial bond-buying program.

The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 0.1%, the S&P 500 ended flat and the Nasdaq gained 0.5%. Despite the decline, the Dow will start trading less than 118 points from the record closing high of 15,409.39 set May 28. The S&P is about 1% below the record close of 1,669.16 set May 21.

Looking ahead, the U.S. government is set to release data on first-time claims for unemployment insurance at 8:30 a.m. ET. Import and export prices will also be released at the same time.

Shares of Yum! Brands (YUM) rose after the restaurant operator reported earnings that beat expectations.

Quarterly results are coming up Friday from mega-banks JPMorgan (JPM) and Wells Fargo (WFC). Overall, earnings for companies in the S&P 500 are expected to grow 0.8% versus last year, according to FactSet.

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