NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stock futures turned slightly higher Friday, easing off earlier declines, after the government said the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 9.7% in January, helping to offset fears about the economic health of several European countries.
Stock futures initially fell further after the government released its report, but then rebounded as investors digested the data.TODAY'S TOP MARKET STORIES
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S&P 500 futures were off fractionally to 1,061.5. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1 point to 9,980, while those for the Nasdaq 100 added 6.5 points to 1,741.25.
The Labor Department said the unemployment rate fell in January to 9.7% from 10% the month before, while nonfarm payrolls contracted by 20,000. Read more about the jobs data.
U.S. stocks skidded sharply Thursday as overseas events overshadowed the latest round of earnings results. The Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/10w!i:dji/delayed (INDU 9,947, -55.24, -0.55%) lost 268 points, briefly moving below 10,000 for the first time since early November.
European shares continued to fall Friday, posting losses for the third straight session as investors fretted about the health of Greece, Portugal and Spain, with Portugal's PSI 20 index falling 3.1%. See story on fears about Southern Europe.
"It's not easy to get a link between high budget deficits in Greece, Spain and Portugal and the outlook for corporate U.S. But clearly, instability in Europe would not be great for the global economy," said Philip Shaw, strategist at Investec Securities.
Worries about European sovereign debt also weighed on Asian markets, with Japan's Nikkei 225 Average losing 2.9% -- its biggest drop in more than two months.
The dollar gained ground against both the euro and the yen. Crude-oil prices edged higher.
Airgas Inc. /quotes/comstock/13*!arg/quotes/nls/arg (ARG 60.12, +16.59, +38.11%) shot up nearly 43% to $62.05 after Air Products & Chemicals Inc. /quotes/comstock/13*!apd/quotes/nls/apd (APD 68.09, -5.60, -7.60%) offered $60 a share for its rival. Read more about the proposed bid.
Toyota Motor /quotes/comstock/13*!tm/quotes/nls/tm (TM 74.16, +2.38, +3.32%) rose 1.7% in premarket trade, as the company's president offered his "heartfelt apology" over braking-system problems in his first press conference since the company was hit by a wave of recalls. Read more about Toyota.
Kraft Foods Inc. /quotes/comstock/13*!kft/quotes/nls/kft (KFT 28.09, -0.30, -1.06%) fell 0.4%. The company said its offer for Cadbury Plc /quotes/comstock/13*!cby/quotes/nls/cby (CBY 52.36, -0.26, -0.50%) is now unconditional after getting approval from shareholders holding 75% of the U.K. chocolate maker's stock.
Simon Kennedy is the City correspondent for MarketWatch in London. Kate Gibson is a reporter for MarketWatch, based in New York.