U.S. stocks opened higher on Thursday, after the release of upbeat U.S. jobless claims data and as investors turned to the highly-anticipated nonfarm payrolls report to be released on Friday, as well as the beginning of fourth-quarter earnings season.

During early U.S. trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.28%, the S&P 500 index added 0.27%, while the Nasdaq Composite index gained 0.25%.

The Labor Department said the number of people who filed for unemployment assistance last week fell by 15,000 to 330,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 345,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to decline by 10,000.

Separately, Wednesday’s minutes of the Federal Reserve''s December meeting showed that the bank cited a stronger labor market in its decision to cut its asset purchase program by USD10 billion, reducing it to USD75 billion-a-month.

The minutes also showed that officials were keen to stress that further reductions were not on a “preset course” and would be undertaken in “measured” steps.

Alcoa, up 0.37%, was expected in focus as the aluminum procuder was set to kick-off fourth-quarter earnings season later in the day.

Separately, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged the company with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, saying its "subsidiaries repeatedly paid bribes to government officials in Bahrain."

Alcoa reportedly agreed to pay USD384 million to settle the SEC charges and a separate case announced by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Adding to gains, Costco shares rallied 1.80% after the U.S.''s second largest retailer reported December sales that beat expectations, thanks to online successes in the U.S. and Canada.

In the pharmaceutical sector, Novartis was said to be in talks with Merck & Co. to trade its animal-health and human vaccines businesses for the U.S. drugmaker’s over-the-counter health-products unit.

The news sent Merck shares up 0.36% at the open of the U.S. trading session.

Elsewhere, Apple gained 0.45% after the tech giant and its Korean rival Samsung Electronics reportedly agreed to attend a mediation session to be held on or before February 19, as they prepare to battle in court in March over smartphone patents.

Across the Atlantic, European stock markets were mixed to higher. The EURO STOXX 50 climbed 0.44%, France’s CAC 40 slipped 0.10%, Germany''s DAX edged up 0.09%, while Britain''s FTSE 100 inched 0.01% higher.

During the Asian trading session, Hong Kong''s Hang Seng Index dropped 0.91%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index tumbled 1.50%.

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