The Dow and S&P 500 stock indexes were set to open flat on Friday as data showed the labor market deteriorating further while the unemployment rate hit its highest since 1983, underscoring the severity of the recession.
But the Nasdaq could rise, helped by Research in Motion
Data showed U.S. employers shed 663,000 jobs last month, pushing the unemployment rate to 8.5 percent, while January's data was revised to show 741,000 job lost, the biggest decline since October 1949.
Analysts said the numbers, while bad, were not as dire as some had feared.
This is still an ugly number. Just because it wasn't uglier than the consensus, doesn't mean it wasn't ugly, said Robert Macintosh, chief economist at Eaton Vance Corp in Boston.
It's telling you we're in a deep recession and it's still going to be a while to get out of it, especially on the employment side of things. But you have to keep in mind that this is a lagging indicator, we're going to get bad employment numbers, along with the employment rate, even if the economy is starting to turn.
S&P 500 futures fell 4.80 points but were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures were off 57 points, while Nasdaq 100 futures added 0.25.
The market's drags were likely to include shares of energy companies as the price of oil fell, as well as miners amid a decline in metals prices.
Stocks have put in a strong rally since early March, helped by growing optimism that the depth of the economic slowdown is starting to moderate.
The broad S&P 500 has climbed 23.3 percent off the 12-year lows hit in early March, while the Dow is on track for its best four-week rally since 1933.
Data on nonmanufacturing ISM is on tap at 10 a.m. EDT.
(Additional reporting by Herb Lash; Editing by James Dalgleish)