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U.S. stock-index futures climbed on Thursday as traders parsed through upbeat economic data from China and the latest round of earnings.

Today's Markets

As of 8:37 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures climbed 55 points to 15406, S&P 500 futures gained 5.5 points to 1747 and Nasdaq 100 futures advanced 10.3 points to 3350.

China's manufacturing activity ticked up to a seven-month high in October. HSBC's gauge climbed to 50.9 from 50.2 in September. Analysts have been paying close attention to the world's second-biggest economy amid worries growth there will slow down too quickly. 

"On the back of broadbased modest improvements. This implies that China’s growth recovery is becoming consolidated into 4Q following the bottoming out in 3Q," Hongbin Qu, HSBC's chief economist for China wrote in the report.

"This momentum is likely to continue in the coming months, creating favorable conditions for speeding up structural reforms.”

Traders also got a batch of data on the American economy -- the world's biggest.

The Commerce Department said the U.S. trade gap widened in August to $38.8 billion from $38.64 billion the month prior. Economists expected the deficit to expand to $39.5 billion.

A report from the Labor Department showed the number of people filing for first-time jobless benefits fell to 350,000 last week from an upwardly-revised 362,000 the week prior. Economists expected claims to fall to 340,000 from an initially reported 358,000. 

Another report from Commerce on new home sales is due out at 10:00 a.m. ET. 

The economic indicators will help the Federal Reserve determine its path for monetary policy. The central bank is set to meet next week after surprising Wall Street by not tapering its bond-buying program in September. Now, many analysts don't expect the Fed to begin cutting back on its asset purchases until March. 

On the earnings front, 3M (MMM) and Ford (F) posted better-than-expected third-quarter results. 

Elsewhere, U.S. crude oil futures fell 1 cent, or 0.02%, to $96.84 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline rose 0.18% to $2.557 a gallon. Gold climbed $9.20, or 0.69%, to $1,343 a troy ounce. 

Follow Adam Samson on Twitter @adamsamson.