Dow Jones industrial futures rose 36 points to 12,889. The broader S&P futures have tacked on 3.6 points to 1,392.70. Nasdaq futures are up 4.25 points to 2,614.25.
The trade deficit narrowed to $41.5 billion in September, the Commerce Department said. That is 5.1 percent below the August deficit and the smallest imbalance since December 2010. Exports climbed 3.1 percent to an all-time high of $187 billion on strong sales of heavy machinery, commercial aircraft and farm goods.
The Labor Department reported that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell by 8,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 355,000. However, many economists are giving little credence to the numbers because they were compiled as Superstorm Sandy ravaged the East Coast.
Some economists believed the storm would drive applications higher, while others expected a decline because people were unable to apply for help.
However, the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure of unemployment applications, rose 3,250 to 370,500. The larger trend is one of improvement, albeit a slow improvement. The government had previously revised the jobs numbers for August and September to account for stronger-than-expected hiring.
Also on Thursday, McDonald's reported that sales at comparable stores slid 1.8 percent in October, the first time that has happened since 2003. Shares edged lower in premarket trading.
The European Central Bank and the Bank of England both left interest rates unchanged Thursday.
(Note: This article was updated at 9:14 a.m.)