* US employers added 155,000 jobs in Dec
* Unemployment rate holds steady at 7.8 pct
* Futures up: S&P 3.4 pts, Dow 15 pts, Nasdaq 4.25 pts
By Angela Moon
NEW YORK, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Wall Street was set for a higher open on Friday after a key U.S. jobs report showed the pace of hiring by employers had eased sightly in December but gave signals of some momentum in the labor market’s recovery since the 2007-09 recession.
Though the data showed lackluster economic growth was unable to make a dent in the still-high U.S. unemployment rate, it calmed fears about the possibility of the U.S. Federal Reserve ending its highly stimulative monetary policy.
Concerns about the endurance of the Fed’s stimulus program prompted investors to pull back from the market Thursday after a two-day rally.
“When it comes to Fed policy, this report should keep policy steady. There was talk of a scaling back of (Quantitative Easing) yesterday, but this number is a snapshot and is basically where it was when the Fed decided to do more QE last month,” said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital markets in New York.
According to the Labor Department, payrolls outside the farming sector grew 155,000 last month, as expected and slightly below the level for November. Gains in employment were distributed broadly throughout the economy, from manufacturing and construction to health care.
Minutes from the Fed’s December policy meeting, released Thursday, showed Fed officials were increasingly worried about the risks of asset purchases on financial markets, though they looked set to continue with the open-ended stimulus program for now.
Some policymakers thought asset buying should be slowed or stopped before the end of 2013 while others highlighted the need for further stimulus. The Fed’s policy of easy credit has helped push the S&P 500 to a 13.4 percent gain in 2012. Ending that policy would remove an incentive for investors to purchase riskier assets like stocks.
S&P 500 futures added 3.4 points and were slightly higher than 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 15 points, while Nasdaq 100 futures added 4.25 points.
Pharmaceuticals maker Eli Lilly and Co. said on Friday it expects 2013 earnings to increase to $3.75 to $3.90 per share excluding items from $3.30 to $3.40 per share in 2012. The stock rose 2.6 percent to $51.00 in premarket trading.
Walgreen is set to report December same-store sales, a day after several major U.S. retailers beat expectations of modest sales increases in December as shoppers wrapped up holiday buying.
Mosaic Co reported that its quarterly operating profit fell 30 percent as international distributors delayed buying potash and phosphate to avert the price risk associated with the fertilizer producer’s negotiations with China and India.
Japan’s Nikkei share average climbed nearly 3 percent to a 22-month high on its first trading day of 2013 on Friday, as a deal in Washington to avert fiscal disaster buoyed investor risk appetite and the weaker yen lifted exporters such as Toyota Motor Corp. Japan’s markets were closed Thursday for a holiday.