High unemployment remains a big hurdle to a sustainable recovery, and investors are anxious to see improvement. Conflicting reports through the week have battered sentiment, with data showing private employers added more jobs than expected last month, but initial claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week.
Economists polled by Reuters expected the U.S. Labor Department report, due at 8:30 a.m. EDT to show a drop of 65,000 in non-farm payrolls in July as temporary U.S. Census Bureau jobs evaporated. Private employers are expected to have added 90,000 jobs.
Stocks have been consolidating for most of the week after rising 10 percent since early July. But if Friday's employment data pushes the S&P 500 to close above its June high, charts show there's little to keep the benchmark from extending the summer rally.
The S&P has been closing in on its intraday June high of about 1,131, which would open the door for a strong gain as charts show little overhead resistance.
S&P 500 futures rose 2.6 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 dipped 4 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures up 4.25 points.
U.S.-listed shares of BP Plc added 1.8 percent to $41.42 in premarket trading. BP finished pumping cement into its ruptured oil well in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday to seal off the source of the world's worst offshore spill, paving the way to permanently plug the blow-out later this month.
Kraft Foods Inc reported higher-than-expected quarterly profit and raised its target for cost savings from the acquisition of Cadbury. Its shares trading in Frankfurt were up 2 percent.
Activision Blizzard Inc could see interest after it forecast current-quarter profit and revenue below Wall Street targets, sending its shares down 6 percent after hours.
Shares of U.S. grain companies could be in focus after Russia halted grain exports.
Stocks edged lower Thursday as an unexpected rise in initial jobless claims and unimpressive July retail sales bruised sentiment.
(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)