Stock futures little changed amid caution ahead of jobs data

By Angela MoonReuters

Stock futures were little changed on Friday amid caution ahead of a key jobs report and concern the U.S. Federal Reserve may end its stimulative asset-buying program.

The employment reading, to be released by the Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT), is likely to point to modest economic growth despite uncertainty in recent months over a fiscal crisis that continues to dog the U.S. economy.

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U.S. employers likely stepped up hiring in December for the holidays, but the gain will probably not be enough to make a dent in the country's still-high unemployment rate.

Payrolls outside the farming sector are expected to have grown by 150,000 last month, a modest increase from November's 146,000 job gain, according to a Reuters poll of analysts.

"We are currently seeing a carryover from yesterday's Fed news. The bonds are getting hit pretty hard and commodities are down a lot too. I'm surprised the futures aren't reacting much but that is probably because investors are all awaiting the jobs report," said Joe Saluzzi, co-manager of trading at Themis Trading.

"If we get a really good number for the jobs report, then we might see some adverse reaction in the stocks as that might raise the possibility of the Fed ending the stimulus."

S&P 500 futures fell 0.2 point and were 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 lost 11 points, while Nasdaq 100 futures added 3 points.

U.S. stocks closed lower Thursday as investors pulled back after a two-day rally on signs the Federal Reserve was concerned about its highly stimulative monetary policy. 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.

The Fed said last month it would keep interest rates near zero until unemployment fell to at least 6.5 percent, and as long as inflation does not rise above 2.5 percent.

Pharmaceutical 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 was flat 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. The stock was down 1.4 percent at $56 in premarket trading.

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 <7203.T>. Japan's markets were closed Thursday for a holiday.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum)