US STOCKS-Futures rise ahead of jobless data
* Jobless claims on tap, could change payroll expectations
* Defense shares may be in focus on North Korea uncertainty
* Futures up: Dow 49 pts, S&P 500 5.7 pts, Nasdaq 10 pts
NEW YORK, April 4 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures rose on Thursday, signaling a rebound from the previous session's steep loss, as investors awaited a final read on the labor market ahead of the monthly jobs report on Friday.
* The rise in futures wasn't enough to indicate that the S&P 500 would reach a new all-time intraday peak at the open. The benchmark index has struggled to reach its record 1,576.09 level, which has acted as resistance. It is now 1.4 percent away from that high.
* Equities fell sharply on Wednesday, with the S&P posting its biggest daily decline since Feb. 25, after weaker-than-expected data on private sector employment, which raised concerns that the Friday jobs report could also point to weakness in the economy. That report is seen showing 200,000 jobs added in March, down from the previous month.
* The weekly jobless claims report is due at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT). Claims are seen falling to 350,000 from 357,000 in the previous week.
* Wall Street has advanced almost 9 percent this year, partially fueled by a supportive environment from central banks around the world, a trend investors expect to continue.
* On Wednesday, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said the Federal Reserve has room to keep buying bonds to support the U.S. economic recovery because inflation remains low.
* The Fed's actions have contributed to a trend of investors buying on market declines. If that continues, energy shares could be among the most active on Thursday as they rebound from a steep decline in the previous session.
* S&P 500 futures rose 5.7 points and were 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 49 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 10 points.
* Many market participants expect limited upside potential ahead of Friday's payroll report, with the upcoming earnings season viewed as another potential catalyst.
* However, first-quarter earnings forecasts have been lowered since the start of the year, with S&P 500 company earnings now expected to have risen 1.6 percent compared with a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data. A Jan. 1 forecast put earnings growth at 4.3 percent.
* The Dow Jones Transportation Average, seen as a barometer of economic activity, fell more than 1 percent on Wednesday and closed below its 50-day moving average for the first time since Nov. 21.
* Geopolitical issues will remain in view following news that the Pentagon was sending a missile defense system to Guam in the coming weeks, as well as remarks by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that North Korea posed a "real and clear" danger.
* In corporate news, private equity firms TPG Capital and Madison Dearborn Partners are the two finalists bidding for National Financial Partners, a New York-based wealth management company with a market value of nearly $900 million, people familiar with the matter said.