Stocks look firm ahead of jobs data

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    By CNNMoney staffMarch 4, 2011: 7:41 AM ET

    NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — U.S. stock futures were pointing to flat open Friday, ahead of the government’s all-important monthly payrolls report.

    Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures edged higher ahead of the opening bell. Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance.

    U.S. stocks posted their best day in three months on Thursday, as Wall Street rallied behind a strong unemployment claims report along with a modest drop in energy prices.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) rose 191 points, or 1.6%, to 12,258. The session’s gains were the best for the blue-chip indicator in 2011, and the largest since Dec. 1.

    The underlying strength is largely due to the fact that the turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East hasn’t undermined the U.S. recovery, even as oil prices spike, said Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute.

    “The Middle East is not going to derail the U.S. recovery. That’s the realization,” he said.

    Thursday’s gains carried into overseas markets early Friday, with Asian stocks closing sharply higher and shares in Europe posting solid gains.

    Oil prices rose back near the top of a recent range, hitting a high near $103 a barrel in early trading. And gas prices continued to rise, adding 4.4 cents to a national average of $3.3471

    Economy: February’s job report from the Labor Department is due at 8:30 a.m. ET, and will dominate trading and news headlines throughout the day.

    Twenty-five economists surveyed by CNNMoney are predicting the economy added 190,000 jobs in February. In January only 36,000 jobs were added to payrolls, so the expectation would be a large improvement over last month.

    Economists also expect the unemployment rate to rise to 9.2%. Last month, unemployment dropped to 9.0% unexpectedly. If that happens, it could be a sign that more discouraged workers are returning to the labor force.

    A report on factory orders is due after the opening bell.

    Companies: Family Dollar (FDO, Fortune 500) rose about 4% over reports that it rejected a takeover offer from investor Nelson Peltz.

    World markets: European stocks were higher in morning trading. Britain’s FTSE 100 ticked up 0.5%, the DAX in Germany rose 0.5% and France’s CAC 40 advanced 0.2%.

    Asian markets ended the session sharply higher. The Shanghai Composite rallied 1.35%, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong jumped 1.2% and Japan’s Nikkei gained 1%.

    Currencies and commodities: The dollar fell against the euro and the British pound, but was higher versus the Japanese yen.

    Oil for April delivery gained 79 cents to $102.70 a barrel.

    Gold futures for April delivery rose 90 cents to $1,417.30 an ounce.

    Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury fell, pushing the yield up to 3.55% from 3.52% late Friday.  To top of page


    First Published: March 4, 2011: 6:19 AM ET

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    Stocks look firm ahead of jobs data