Wall Street stock index futures were slightly higher on Friday ahead of the release of the keenly watched U.S. non-farm payrolls data.

Recent upbeat economic data, including encouraging U.S. weekly jobless claims data on Thursday, reinforced confidence of a strong reading for the payroll numbers, due at 1330 GMT.

A Reuters poll expected the report to show payrolls rose by 145,000 in January, up for the fourth straight month, though the jobless rate likely edged up.

Sentiment for equities was also lifted by expectations that U.S. monetary policy is likely to stay accommodative for the time being, following comments from U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, who gave an upbeat assessment of the economy but said it still needed help from the central bank.

U.S. stocks ended near the session's highs on Thursday, with investors favoring shares of retailers following encouraging chain-store sales.

Companies scheduled to release earnings on Friday include Aetna , with focus on the health insurer's outlook for 2011. Wall Street expects the firm to post a profit of 62 cents per share, up from 40 cents per share a year ago.

Bank of America agreed to offload its Balboa insurance portfolio to Australia's QBE Insurance for more than $700 million, the latest in a string of asset sales by the U.S. lender as it recovers from the global credit crisis.

Boeing Co and EADS launched dueling advertising campaigns on Thursday as the companies' bitter battle to capture U.S. refueling aircraft orders valued at up to $50 billion neared another pivotal point.

Political unrest in Egypt will be closely monitored, as a senior U.S. official said Washington was discussing with Egyptians different scenarios, including one in which Mubarak resigns immediately.

In Europe, the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 <.FTEU3> index of top shares rose 0.5 percent in early trade, with heavyweight banks among the gainers.

(Reporting by Harpreet Bhal; Editing by Erica Billingham)