Stock futures flat on "fiscal cliff" caution; data on tap


Stock futures were little changed on Friday, the final trading day of the month, amid a cautious mood as investors kept their focus firmly on U.S. budget talks.

Trading has been choppy lately, as investors buy on sporadic dips in the market and react to mixed headlines out of Washington regarding progress in talks on averting the "fiscal cliff," spending cuts and tax hikes that will come into effect in the new year.

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U.S. President Barack Obama plans to travel to a factory in Pennsylvania to press his case on raising taxes on the wealthy to narrow the deficit.

"Washington brinkmanship and a delay in reaching an agreement on the fiscal cliff are likely to rattle markets. These risks and uncertainties are likely to keep markets volatile," said John Praveen, chief investment strategist at Prudential International Investments Advisers LLC.

"However, we expect an agreement in Washington preventing the U.S. economy plunging over the cliff, and further stabilization in euro zone," Praveen said. "This, combined with the liquidity and interest rate tailwinds, should fuel a relief rally into 2012 year-end."

After a close relationship for several years, Facebook Inc and Zynga Inc revised terms of a partnership agreement between the companies; under the new pact, Zynga will have limited ability to promote its site on Facebook. Zynga shares were down 6.9 percent at $2.43 in premarket trading. Facebook shares were up 0.8 percent at $27.55.

Whole Foods Market Inc announced a special cash dividend of $2.00 per share. In expectation of higher dividend tax rates in 2013, companies have been shifting dividends or announcing special payouts to shareholders.

The U.S. Commerce Dept releases October personal income and consumption data at 8:30 a.m. ET (1330 GMT). Economists in a Reuters survey expect a 0.2 percent rise in income, and an unchanged reading for spending. In September, income grew 0.4 percent and spending was up 0.8 percent.

The Institute for Supply Management in Chicago releases November index of manufacturing activity at 9:45 a.m. (1445 GMT). A reading of 50.5 is expected, compared with 49.9 in October.

S&P 500 futures were flat and in line with 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 added 4.75 points.

Apple Inc's latest iPhone has received final clearance from Chinese regulators, paving the way for a December debut in a highly competitive market where the lack of a new model had severely eroded its share of product sales.

Japan's Nikkei average hit a seven-month closing high on Friday as a weaker yen, driven by expectations the Bank of Japan will act more boldly under a likely new government following December 16 elections, lifted the shares of exporters.

European shares were steady at 15-month highs as investors squared the books on the final trading day of the month, with all eyes on U.S. budget talks.

U.S. stocks finished higher on Thursday as investors bought on sporadic dips in a market roiled by conflicting comments from Washington on negotiations to avert the "fiscal cliff," automatic spending cuts and tax rises set to begin in 2013.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum)