Sales at U.S. retailers were up 0.3 percent, the government said, compared with expectations for a fall of 0.2 percent.
This is definitely good news since so many people were expecting sales to fall and for snow to have a negative impact, said Dan Cook, senior market analyst at IG Markets in Chicago.
Investors also awaited the Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for March, set for release at 9:55 a.m. EST (1455 GMT). Economists in a Reuters survey expect a reading of 73.6, matching the February number.
The retail sales number makes me more optimistic about the sentiment number, though there are still a lot of variables that could impact how people will be feeling, Cook said.
S&P 500 futures rose 4.9 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 jumped 30 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures were up 5.5 points.
Financial stocks will be in focus after gains in the previous session as bipartisan U.S. Senate negotiations to overhaul financial regulation collapsed, jeopardizing a top Obama administration priority.
Dow component United Technologies Corp fell 1 percent to $71.35 before the bell after reiterating its 2010 profit outlook.
CF Industries Holdings Inc shares fell 5.8 percent to $94.80 premarket after Agrium Inc abandoned its $5.4 billion bid for the company and brought CF closer to closing a deal with Terra Industries Inc . Agrium rose 6.5 percent to $71.10.
National Semiconductor Corp late Thursday reported that quarterly profit rose, beating expectations, and forecast fourth-quarter revenue ahead of consensus. The stock rose 2.5 percent to $14.70 before the bell.
Japan's Nikkei average hit its highest close in seven weeks on Friday, as exporters got a boost from speculation that the yen may weaken if the Bank of Japan takes additional steps to ease monetary policy next week. European stocks inched higher in early trade, led by banks.
U.S. stocks gained on Thursday as rising bank shares led a late rally, eclipsing concerns China may move to cool its overheating economy.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)