) -- U.S. stock futures were signaling a higher start to Wall Street on Thursday. Asian shares ended mostly higher, getting a boost from better-than-expected economic reports in the U.S.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.9% Thursday to close at 8,824.59.

European stocks were lower ahead of a bond auction in Spain and a rate-setting meeting of the European Central Bank.

The economic calendar in the U.S. Thursday includes the Challenger layoffs report for September at 7 a.m. EDT, weekly initial and continuing jobless claims at 8:30 a.m., factory orders for August at 10 a.m., and the release of the minutes of the Sept. 12-13 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee at 2 p.m.

U.S. stocks

on Wednesday finished with mild gains as better-than-expected services sector and payrolls data offset a sharp decline in




(HPQ) - Get Report


The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose more than 12 points, or 0.09%, to finish at 13,495. The index has risen 10.45% so far in 2012.


shares tumbled Wednesday after CEO Meg Whitman told analysts that the tech giant would "continue to see a broad-based profit decline across business units in 2013."

Whitman said 2013 is a "is a fix and rebuild year" for HP, and that it's on track to complete its restructuring by the end of fiscal 2014. By 2016, Whitman said she expects to see the company's revenue growing in line with GDP and operating profit growing faster than revenue.

Shares of HP fell 13% to $14.91 by the close of Wednesday's trading session.

Costco Wholesale

(COST) - Get Report

said Thursday that same-store sales in September rose 6%. Other retailers reporting September sales include


(TGT) - Get Report



(M) - Get Report


Marriott International

(MAR) - Get Report

, the hotel operator, said Thursday that it earned $143 million, or 44 cents a share, in the three months ended in September; analysts were expecting profit of 40 cents.

Revenue totaled $2.79 billion, also beating the average analyst forecast of $2.65 billion.

Earnings expected Thursday include

International Speedway

(ISCA) - Get Report


Robbins & Meyers


, and

Sycamore Networks



President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney squared off Wednesday night in the first

presidential debate

as investors hoped for more clarity on who may be the favorite to win the election and lead Washington through a series of important fiscal decisions in the next term.

Romney and Obama engaged in a 90-minute debate format that featured wonky policy discussions on taxes, Medicare and getting the U.S. middle class back to work, but there was little debate on how to solve the impending fiscal cliff.

-- Written by Joseph Woelfel

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Joseph Woelfel

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