MarketWatch.com - Pre-Market Indications

Friday, January 7, 2011

Indications: U.S. stock futures steady ahead of payrolls

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By Simon Kennedy, MarketWatch

LONDON (MarketWatch) â€" U.S. stock futures were broadly flat Friday as investors awaited a crucial December payrolls report that is expected to show a sharp rise in the number of jobs created.

Payrolls the only game in town

Markets are braced for a punchy U.S. employment report for December, and the dollar's run of strength may now depend on them getting one.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/21b!f:dj\h11 (DJH11 11,625, -21.00, -0.18%)  rose 6 points to 11,652 and S&P 500 futures /quotes/comstock/21m!f:sp\h11 (SPH11 1,269, -1.50, -0.12%)  were virtually flat at 1,270.30.

Nasdaq 100 futures /quotes/comstock/21m!f:nd\h11 (NDH11 2,275, -1.00, -0.04%)  rose 1.25 points at 2,277.50.

U.S. markets weakened slightly on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/10w!i:dji/delayed (DJIA 11,697, -25.58, -0.22%)  dropping nearly 26 points to record its first fall of 2011, as retail and telecommunications shares lagged.

All eyes Friday will be on the December nonfarm payrolls figures and the latest reading on U.S. unemployment.

Expectations for the jobs data â€" due at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time â€" have increased in the last few days, in part because of a record-breaking increase in private-sector employment reported by Automatic Data Processing Inc. on Wednesday. See Economic Outlook.

Economists polled by MarketWatch on average expect that 175,000 nonfarm jobs were created in December, up from an earlier prediction of 143,000 and well ahead of the 39,000 rise in November. The unemployment rate is expected to be steady at 9.8%.

“Unemployment is one of the major sticking factors for a global recovery and certainly for a U.S. recovery,” said Manoj Ladwa, senior trader at ETX Capital.

Stock markets have already priced in a strong number and any reading much below the consensus forecast could see futures fall off sharply, Ladwa said.

On the other hand, a very strong figure could raise fears that the Federal Reserve’s policy of pumping money into the economy may be drawing to an end, which would limit any upside for stocks from the data, Ladwa said.

He added that the Fed is highly unlikely to make any decision based on just one month of strong figures.

The U.S. dollar remained in a fairly tight range ahead of the data. The greenback rose 0.3% against the yen to ¥83.543, while the euro fell 0.3% to $1.2979.

On the corporate front, shares in Borders Group Inc. /quotes/comstock/13*!bgp/quotes/nls/bgp (BGP 0.86, +0.00, +0.10%)  will be in focus after The Wall Street Journal reported that the company is in talks with advisers about restructuring its debt-heavy balance sheet.

Shares in Liz Claiborne Inc. /quotes/comstock/13*!liz/quotes/nls/liz (LIZ 6.90, -0.16, -2.27%)  slumped 20% in premarket trading after the company said late Thursday that its fourth-quarter results will miss previous targets, in part because of bad weather in Europe.

Tobacco group Philip Morris International Inc. /quotes/comstock/13*!pm/quotes/nls/pm (PM 57.72, -0.78, -1.33%)  may be another faller after it was downgraded to hold from buy at Citigroup due to weakening pricing and volume trends across the industry.

European markets were mostly lower Friday, with the U.K.’s FTSE 100 index /quotes/comstock/23i!i:ukx (UK:UKX 5,986, -33.97, -0.56%)  dropping 0.3% to 6,002.63, while in Japan the Nikkei 225 Average closed up 0.1%. See Europe Markets. | See Asia Markets.

Simon Kennedy is the City correspondent for MarketWatch in London.

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