U.S. stock-index futures signaled a sharply higher open on Thursday, as Wall Street cheered comments from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen which soothed some fears of a sooner-than-expected rate rise. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) had been expected to drop the phrase "considerable time", in reference to how long it will keep rates low, from its policy statement. But it surprised some analysts by not doing away with the working entirely.
Read More Stock rally could depend on oil pressure Stock futures maintained a rally after data had jobless claims falling by 6,000 to 289,000 last week. The central bank did say it would be "patient" in raising interest rates, and Yellen said it was unlikely to start its rate hike process for "at least the next couple of meetings." "The FOMC statement issued today had something for everyone but, on balance, it does not dissuade us that unexpectedly strong employment growth over the next few months will prompt the Fed to hike rates next March, sooner than most others expect," chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, Paul Ashworth, said.
Read More Europe sharply higher on Fed pledge; Putin speaks On Thursday morning, European shares bounced, with global sentiment boosted by the comments from the Fed.
It comes after U.S. stocks surged on Wednesday, with the Dow marking its best session of the year, as investors celebrated a rally in the energy sector and the Fed's pledge. Data due on Thursday also includes the Philadelphia Fed survey and leading indicators, both at 10 a.m. ET.The price of oil will remain in focus, with Brent crude holding steady above $62 a barrel and U.S. crude traded over $58 on Thursday, after a sharp drop in prices over recent days.
Read More Putin: Russia will bounce back within two years Eyes will also be on Russia, after Russian President Vladimir Putin held a much-anticipated annual address. The leader blamed "external factors" for the country's ongoing economic problems, but failed to reassure investors, sparking another bumpy day for the ruble, which weakened to 63.86 against the dollar.
The ruble (Exchange:RUB=) is down around 88 percent against the dollar for the year.