Stocks: Bullish start to August

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Welcome to August!

The month is off to a positive start, with investors calmed by indications that the Federal Reserve will not be too hasty when scaling down its massive bond-buying program.

U.S. stock futures were up about 0.6%.

The Labor Department reported that the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell to 326,000 last week, down 19,000 from the week prior. The report comes one day ahead of the government's monthly report on hiring and unemployment.

Still to come, the Institute for Supply Management will release its monthly manufacturing sentiment index, while the Census Bureau will issue data on construction spending.

Major automakers are also set to release their monthly sales results throughout the day.

Related: Fear & Greed Index

On the corporate front, Procter & Gamble (PG) reported better-than-expected earnings and sales for its fiscal fourth quarter.

Exxon Mobil (XOM) reported quarterly earnings that fell short of forecasts, citing weaker refining margins, while revenue topped estimates.

Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA) reported earnings and revenue that missed estimates. The company cited higher costs, exploration charges and challenges in Nigeria, where oil thefts and supply disruptions have hit Shell's bottom line.

Barrick Gold Corp. (ABX) booked a quarterly charge of $8.7 billion in the second quarter, driven by falling gold prices.

Shares of DirecTV (DTV) fell after the satellite television provider posted earnings that widely missed forecasts. LinkedIn (LNKD) is due after the close.

Cigna (CI) reported a jump in earnings that beat even the most bullish forecasts of analysts, while Time Warner Cable (TWC) also met forecasts with its improved profit.

Sony (SNE) reported first-quarter results showing a 13% jump in sales compared with the same quarter a year earlier. The revenue boost was largely the result of a weaker yen and stronger smartphone sales.

Yelp (YELP) shares jumped 14% in premarket trading after the online review site reported a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss late Wednesday.

Shares of J.C. Penney (JCP) rebounded 9% in premarket trading following a 10% sell-off Wednesday. The retailer issued a statement early Thursday disputing reports that CIT (CIT) had cut off some of the credit to its suppliers due to concerns about Penney's ability to pay them.. However, an analyst for Citigroup cut her recommendation on the stock to a "sell" from "neutral."

Overall, U.S. stocks finished largely unchanged Wednesday. But when you look at July as a whole, the markets made some impressive moves higher. All three major indexes gained between 4% and 7%.

Related: Manufacturing data produces puzzle in China

European markets posted small gains in morning trading. Investors are waiting for the latest monetary policy decisions from the central banks in the region. The Bank of England left rates unchanged and kept its steady at £375 billion. The European Central Bank also left rates unchanged. ECB president Mario Draghi will host a press conference at 8:30 a.m. ET.

Investors and economists expect that both central banks will maintain their current policy and leave rates unchanged.

Asian markets all closed with gains, with investor sentiment buoyed by the latest Fed statement and China's purchasing managers' index data.

The Shanghai Composite index surged 1.8%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index ran up 0.9%. In Japan, Tokyo's Nikkei jumped 2.5%.

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