* 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
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, April 4 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.