US STOCKS-Futures tick higher ahead of payroll report

Fri Sep 6, 2013 7:53am EDT

* Payrolls could influence expectations on Fed policy

* Dow on track to snap four-week losing streak

* Syria not main focus, but remains a market issue

* Futures up: Dow 13 pts, S&P 2.7 pts, Nasdaq 6.5 pts

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, Sept 6 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures gained modestly on Friday, as investors were reluctant to make big bets following three straight days of gains and ahead of the monthly jobs report.

The nonfarm payroll report will be scrutinized for insight into the U.S. labor market and its implications for how long the Federal Reserve's accommodative monetary policies will continue. Analysts expect 180,000 jobs to have been added in August, up from 162,000 added in the previous month. The unemployment rate is seen holding at 7.4 percent.

If the report comes in sharply above forecasts, it could cement expectations that the U.S. central bank will this month begin to slow its bond-buying stimulus program, which has been credited with fueling the S&P 500's 16-percent gain in 2013.

"If the report comes in as expected, it won't be a game changer for investors, but we should still see the market react well to the news," said Adam Hewison, president and chief executive at INO.com Inc in Annapolis, Maryland.

Recent data have pointed to improvement on the employment front, with jobless claims falling to a near five-year low in the latest week.

The strong data and expectations for the Fed to being scaling back stimulus triggered a selloff in bonds, with the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield brushing against 3 percent. Analysts said the recent bond selloff could persist.

"Right now the idea of tapering is reflected in the market, and stocks have been able to hold on well and build on our skyrocketing so far this year," Hewison said.

S&P 500 futures rose 2.7 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 rose 13 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 6.5 points.

For the week thus far, the S&P 500 is up 1.4 percent, its best weekly performance since July. The Dow was on track to snap a four-week losing streak, rising 0.9 percent, while the Nasdaq is up 1.9 percent for the week.

Investors are continuing to assess the possibility of a U.S.-led strike against Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack against its civilians. U.S. President Barack Obama has received support in his bid to get Congressional authorization for a strike, though he also faces growing pressure at the Group of 20 summit in Russia not to use military force.

Syria has been a market driver over the past two week, sparking steep gyrations that have been amplified by light trading volume around holidays.

Energy prices have been among the most volatile amid the geopolitical uncertainty, with investors concerned that military action in the Middle East will weigh on oil supplies. Crude oil has spiked about 2 percent over the past two weeks and rose 0.6 percent on Friday.

Timken Co rose after the bell on Thursday after the company's board approved a plan to spin off its steel business from its bearings and power transmission operations.

At least three brokers raised their price targets on Infoblox Inc a day after the network security company reported its fourth-quarter results. The stock jumped 15 percent to $40.60 in light premarket trading.

Wall Street edged up on Thursday, rising for a third day after strong data indicated economic conditions were improving.

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