US Stock Futures Signal Higher Open Ahead Of February Jobs Report

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Stock futures slightly higher after data
A Wall St. sign is seen outside the New York Stock Exchange, February 6, 2012.

U.S. stock index futures point to a higher open Friday ahead of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' nonfarm payrolls and unemployment reports.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 0.36 percent, futures on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index were up 0.33 percent and those on the Nasdaq 100 Index were up 0.27 percent.

Investors are waiting for the government's monthly nonfarm payrolls report, which is the most closely watched economic data pertaining to the jobs market and a key gauge of the direction and pace of economic recovery.

The nonfarm payrolls report, which measures the change in the number of people employed during the previous month, excluding the farming industry, is due to be released at 8:30 a.m. EST. Economists expect nonfarm payrolls to show a gain of 180,000 jobs last month, up from gain of 157,000 jobs in January, while the unemployment rate is expected to marginally decline to 7.8 percent from 7.9 percent in January.

The much-awaited U.S. jobs report follows data on private sector hiring, weekly jobless claims, manufacturing and services that suggest a pickup in the labor market recovery and the pace of economic growth.

Payroll firm ADP Employer Services said on Wednesday that the U.S. private sector added a better-than-expected 198,000 jobs in February, which was down an upwardly revised 215,000-job gain in January, but which topped Bloomberg’s expectation of 170,000 new jobs, while weekly jobless claims fell last week to a seasonally adjusted 340,000. 

Meanwhile, recent data released by the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) showed that U.S. factory activity expanded for the third consecutive month and the services industry expanded at the fastest pace in a year in February. The ISM manufacturing employment index declined to 52.6 but still indicated positive expansion, and the labor component of the ISM services index declined 0.3 percent in February but gave at a very strong reading of 57.2.

“We stand above the current consensus, which looks for a 165,000 gain, but we believe the employment indicators released to date point to an overall positive picture in the labor market for February,” a note from Credit Agricole said.

U.S. stock markets advanced Thursday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average extended its record high as investor sentiment continued to be supported by better-than-expected economic data. Data released by the Department of Labor showed that jobless claims, which measure the number of individuals who filed for unemployment insurance for the first time last week, unexpectedly fell 340,000 in the week ending Mar.2 while analysts’ expected claims to rise to 353,000 from a revised by 347,000 from the previous week.

European stock markets were trading higher. Germany's DAX30 was up 0.69 percent, France's CAC 40 gained 0.76 percent and London's FTSE 100 advanced 0.57 percent.

Asian stock markets mostly ended with gains on Friday after China posted an unexpected trade surplus for February. The Japanese Nikkei climbed 2.64 percent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng surged 1.41 percent and India’s BSE Sensex gained 1.17 percent, while the Chinese Shanghai Composite declined 0.24 percent.

Official data released Friday showed that China had a trade surplus last month, beating forecasts that it would have a trade deficit due to the seasonal issues pertaining to the Chinese New Year holidays. China's trade surplus narrowed to $15.25 billion in February from January's $29.15 billion surplus but topped analysts’ estimate of a $16 billion trade deficit.

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