NEW YORK — Stock futures rose sharply on renewed investor confidence in the Fed's commitment to an aggressive monetary policy, as well as some big sales numbers from automakers and an improving jobs picture.

Dow Jones industrial futures rose 109 points to 15,542. S&P futures added 12.7 points to 1,693.20. Nasdaq futures gained 23 points to 3,106.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped by 19,000 last week, hitting the lowest level since 2008.

It was a surprisingly strong report, even though weekly employment figures are volatile. The less volatile four-week average slid 4,500 to 345,750.

Economists are likely rethinking their estimates on job growth for July which will be released by the Labor Department on Friday. Projections currently call for just over 180,000 new jobs.

Part of the reason for healthier numbers can be traced back to the incredible year that automakers are having. U.S. automakers did not shut factories temporarily as they usually do each year because demand has been so strong.

Automakers are posting sales for July and Chrysler started the industry off with a bang.

The Detroit automaker said sales rose 11 percent last month, its best July in seven years.

Global markets rose early after the U.S. Federal Reserve hinted Wednesday that it might need to maintain its $85 billion a month in bond purchases, which have kept borrowing rates extremely low.