Dow futures are up 94 points at 12,671, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures are up 10 points at 1,318. The Nasdaq composite is up 14 points at 2,478.
Figures released Wednesday show that China's manufacturing sector is growing steadily and Europe's is performing better than forecast. That gives investors hope that U.S. manufacturing figures will show the world's largest economy continues its recovery.
The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index is due to be released at 10 a.m. Eastern. Economists forecast that U.S. factory output likely grew at a faster rate in January after businesses spent more on industrial machinery, airplanes and other equipment.
Investors will also focus on the monthly hiring figures from private payrolls agency ADP, which will help shape expectations of Friday's official jobs data, non-farm payrolls.
The focus on the U.S. will prove a welcome diversion for some traders from monitoring the daily developments in Europe's debt crisis.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 1.3 percent at 5,755 while Germany's DAX rose 2 percent to 6,587. The CAC-40 in France was 1.6 percent higher at 3,350.
There are signs that the crisis has eased, for now. EU leaders agreed this week to push ahead with a closer fiscal union and borrowing rates for Italy and Spain are down sharply from just a couple of months ago, suggesting increased investor confidence.
Much hinges on Greece, where the outlook also appeared brighter. Hopes were growing that a debt-reduction deal between the country and its private creditors will be concluded soon, alongside a second bailout from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund.
The sense of an easing in Europe's debt woes helped stocks enjoy a stellar start to the year, with many markets recovering a large chunk of their late-2011 losses. Overall, U.S. shares had their best start in 15 years.
Earlier in Asia, stock markets lacked the same momentum seen in Europe.
Tokyo's Nikkei 225 edged up less than 0.1 percent to close at 8,809.79 but Hong Kong's Hang Seng ended down 0.3 percent to 20,333.37. Mainland China's main index in Shanghai also fell 1.2 percent to 2,268.08.
The improved mood over the global economy helped oil prices track higher — benchmark oil for March delivery gained 53 cents to $99 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.