A hefty 4.5% gain in China’s Shanghai stock index led to optimism in European markets today and now, before the open, US equity futures are looking higher too.

Volatility in the Shanghai index has been leading markets all week long, though US markets were able to recover after opening sharply yesterday. All three major US indexes ended the day about 0.68% up, and today those gains are being extended, albeit slightly. The benchmark S&P 500 is up 3 points to the psychological threshold of 1,000.

With the Shanghai index seeing its largest one-day in five months today, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index followed by closing 1.9% higher, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 closed up 1.8%. In Europe, the FTSE 100 has been trading 1.3% higher, and Germany’s Dax was recently up 1.2%.

US stocks could quickly change after the Jobless Claims report comes out at 8:30.The  weekly report has been relatively stable in recent weeks with first-time claimants hovering around the 550k each week. This week analysts look for some improvement, and there’s some added importance as it’s the survey week for the monthly employment statistics, which means any trend would likely be repeated in the nonfarm payrolls report (released the first Friday of each month.)

That’s the only news before the opening bell, but half an hour into the session markets are hit with two more bits of data, a broad measure of where the economy is heading, and a regional index tracking business conditions in the Philadelphia region. More details after the jump.

Key Releases Today:

8:30 ― Jobless Claims have been difficult to read recently due to seasonal issues related to auto-sector layoffs. The 4-week average is currently 565k new claims per week, which is a decent improvement from the 616k average for June, but no improvement has been seen over the past two weeks with claims stuck just below 560k. 

While investors look for signs that the economy is rebounding, it’s hard to be too optimistic when more than two million people are filing for unemployment insurance each month. 

“With the period of temporary summer factory shutdowns now behind us, the jobless claims data are likely to give a much more clean reading on the state of the labor market,” said analysts at RDQ before the release. “Therefore, in the coming weeks, the initial unemployment claims data will provide important, high-frequency information on the state of the economy.”

Analysts at BTMU note that “initial jobless claims below 360K tend to indicate a growing labor market,” a figure that seems a far way off. And even when firings come to a standstill, it’s not clear just how quickly hirings will resume.

10:00 ― The Leading Indicators Index is a composite index that looks for turning points in the economy. Analysts believe it should repeat June’s +0.7% performance in July, providing broad-based confirmation that the recession is at an end, even though the labor market remains dreadful.

“Since April, the LEI has posted three consecutive increases, primarily driven by a rise in investor sentiment, the stock market, consumer expectations, and a pick up at the nation’s manufacturers,” said Ellen Zentner, senior macroeconomist at BTMU. 

Zentner cites positives contributions from “a gain in manufacturing hours, more favorable delivery times at manufacturers, and lower unemployment claims.” But her forecast is just +0.2% overall, as “lower building permits and a drop in consumer expectations will weigh on the LEI in July.”

10:00 ― A surprise 13-point gain in the Empire State survey led manufacturing conditions in New York to their highest point of optimism since November 2007 on Monday. The Philadelphia Fed index is now expected to follow suit, at least somewhat. The median forecast has moved up from -1.0 to +2.0 since Monday, which means investors are now looking for a 9.5-point gain in August.

If that turns out to be the case, investor sentiment could send markets higher on optimism that manufacturing conditions across the nation would be trending upwards as summer comes to a close. The two indexes don’t always report the same trends, however, so until the 10:00 it’s hard to say what impact it will have.