Stocks were set to climb at the open on Friday, with the S&P 500 on track for a fourth straight day of gains as modest durable goods and consumer spending data was not enough to dampen optimism the U.S. recovery remained on track.

Durable goods orders jumped 3.8 percent in November on strong demand for aircraft, the Commerce Department said, but excluding transportation, orders only rose 0.3 percent after rising 1.5 percent in October.

Consumer spending ticked up 0.1 percent in November as tepid income growth put a squeeze on households after rising by the same margin in October, another report showed.

Certainly the top line number for durables was very strong but excluding transportation, it was right in line with expectations. The durables has been a pretty strong number recently. The whisper expectation was for a beat on the core side, excluding transportation, said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management in Bedford Hills, New York.

Futures (were) strong this morning, with a little bit of selloff when this data came out. So a modest disappointment but probably not enough to overly weigh on the market.

In a report due at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT), new home sales are expected to tick up to 313,000, from 307,000 the month before. A report Wednesday showed sales of existing homes surged 4 percent in November, suggesting the market may have finally bottomed.

The benchmark S&P index has risen 2.8 percent this week as economic data pointed to a gradual improvement in the economy. The index is down 0.3 percent for the year.

S&P 500 futures rose 3.9 points and 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 gained 35 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 5.5 points.

Trading is expected to be light Friday ahead of the Christmas holiday weekend, and could result in exaggerated market swings. The New York Stock Exchange will be open normal hours, but the bond market will close early, at 1400 EST (1900 GMT).

The U.S. Congress, after months of bitter fighting, was poised to pass a payroll tax cut extension that U.S. President Barack Obama argued is vital to the health of the U.S. economy.

Deutsche Boerse won U.S. antitrust approval to buy NYSE Euronext in a deal to create the world's No. 1 exchange operator. The transaction still faces serious regulatory headwinds in Europe.

SunPower Corp jumped 24.8 percent to $7.30 in premarket trading. The solar panels maker is buying rival Tenesol, a unit of France's Total SA . At the same time, Total is buying 18.6 million SunPower shares, raising its stake to about 66 percent.

Standard and Poor's said late Thursday that WPX Energy Inc will replace Compuware Corp in the S&P MidCap 400 index. Exterran will replace Skyline Corp in the S&P SmallCap 600 index. The changes are effective at the close of trading on Friday, December 30.

(Reporting By Chuck Mikolajczak; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)