US STOCKS-Futures flat with S&P record high within view

Wed Apr 3, 2013 8:11am EDT

* Data on U.S. private employment, services sector on tap

* Zynga rallies, to offer casino games in Britain

* Futures up: Dow 6 pts, S&P 1.1 pts, Nasdaq 0.25 pt

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, April 3 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Wednesday as investors awaited the latest round of economic data and the S&P 500 edged even closer to an all-time intraday high.

The S&P has been within striking distance of its record level of 1,576.09 for the past several sessions, and inched to within three points of it on Tuesday before pulling back. While the index ended at a new closing high, a late-session paring of market gains prompted investors to question the strength of the recent rally.

Market movements may be slight until the release of the closely watched nonfarm payrolls report on Friday, as there are few major trading catalysts before then. The S&P has gained less than 0.1 percent so far this week.

"We're going to be quiet before the payroll report, with defensive sectors favored and any action likely coming from whether an overseas market moves dramatically," said Rick Fier, director of trading at Conifer Securities in New York.

Nonetheless, economic data will be scoured for signs of whether the economy continues to steadily improve. The ADP national employment report is scheduled for release at 8:15 EDT (1215 GMT) and is seen showing 200,000 private sector jobs were added in March, slightly more than the previous month. A strong ADP report may raise expectations for Friday's jobs report.

The March read for the Institute for Supply Management's services index, due at 10:00 a.m. (1400 GMT), is seen at 55.8, down from 56.0 in the previous month.

"Services is such a huge part of the economy that any improvement would be viewed as a positive," said Fier, who helps oversee $8 billion in assets under administration. "Even more than it topping expectations, we would like to see it top last month's read."

While data has largely been positive and helped to propel the equity market in the first quarter, a few disappointments have made investors cautious. The ISM manufacturing index on Monday came in below expectations.

S&P 500 futures rose 1.1 point, less than 0.1 percent, though it was above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures added 6 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 0.25 point.

The S&P 500 has advanced more than 10 percent this year and last week, broke above its 2007 closing high, a level it exceeded on Tuesday. The Dow first broke above its 2007 record on March 5.

In company news, Zynga Inc surged 12 percent in premarket trading after the company said it would begin offering poker and casino-style games in Britain in partnership with Bwin.party Digital Entertainment.

ConAgra Foods Inc fell 2.4 percent to $34.68 before the bell. The company reported third-quarter earnings that fell 57 percent even as revenue grew.

Verizon Communications Inc ruled out a full takeover of Vodafone , turning the focus yet again to whether the two telecom giants can do a deal over their Verizon Wireless joint venture. U.S.-listed shares of Vodafone fell 3.6 percent to $28.36 in premarket trading.

Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc is emerging as the lead contender in an auction for Life Technologies Corp, a genetic testing maker with a market value of more than $11 billion, three people familiar with the matter said this week.

Issues in the euro zone will continue to be in focus a day after Cyprus concluded a bailout deal. The plan, which still requires ratification, would mean the country receives a 10 billion euro loan and that it has until 2018 to carry out measures to shore up its finances. The country's finance minister resigned after concluding the deal.

While investors have largely used any market decline as a buying opportunity, the situation in Cyprus has been a major source of market uncertainty in recent weeks.

U.S. stocks rose on Tuesday, lifted by healthcare stocks, after a government decision on payment rates. Strong factory orders data also added to the positive tone.

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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