By Tomi Kilgore
U.S. stock futures gained ground early Friday ahead of the government's monthly employment report, which is widely seen as the most important economic data point of the month.
About 90 minutes ahead of the open, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures advanced 27 points, or 0.2%, to 16845.
S&P 500 index futures rose two points, or 0.1%, to 1940 and Nasdaq-100 futures added three points, or 0.1%, to 3779. Changes in stock futures don't always accurately predict stock moves after the opening bell.
On Thursday, the Dow ran up 99 points, or 0.6%, to close at a record high, for the seventh time in 2014, while the S&P 500 climbed 0.7% to its 17th record high this year. Despite the rally to new highs, activity remained muted Thursday, with overall daily volume falling short of the year-to-date average for the 14th-straight session.
At 8:30 a.m. Eastern, nonfarm payrolls for May are expected to increase 210,000, from an original estimate of 288,000 in April, while the unemployment rate is seen ticking up to 6.4% from April's 6.3%. Average hourly earnings are forecast to increase 0.2% on the month.
Although Friday's payroll data have been widely anticipated, traders said it isn't likely to provide a big boost to activity, unless the nonfarm payroll number is far outside of expectations.
"You've got people frozen in time," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at brokerage firm Wunderlich Securities. "It's difficult to get new money to come into the market."
He said there is a wide range of expectations for nonfarm payrolls that the market would find "acceptable," and keep the current pace of gains intact. He doesn't believe investors will be too disappointed unless the payroll number is below 180,000. And with the market at record highs, it would likely take a number well north of 250,000 to get investors excited about buying.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hogan isn't worried that too big a number could worry investors that the Federal Reserve might increase the pace at which it has been paring back on stimulus measures.
"Good news is actually good news now in the marketplace," Mr. Hogan said. "There's no fear," that a strong number would accelerating the Fed's timetable for raising rates.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note ticked lower to 2.575% from 2.584% late Thursday.
Gold futures eased 0.1% to $1,252.70 an ounce, while crude oil futures tacked on 0.3% to $102.74 a barrel. The dollar edged higher against the euro, but lost some ground against the yen.
European markets were broadly higher, extending gains seen Thursday after the European Central Bank's announcement of stimulus measures on Thursday. The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.5%, and was headed for an eighth-straight weekly gain.
Germany's DAX 30 index gained 0.4%, France's CAC 40 added 0.5% and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 tacked on 0.4%.
Asian markets saw weakness, with China's Shanghai Composite shedding 0.5% and Japan's Nikkei Stock Average slipping less than 0.1%.
In corporate news, Bank of America slipped 0.5% in premarket trading, pulling back from a six-week high on Thursday, after The Wall Street Journal reported that the banking giant was in talks to pay at least $12 billion to settle civil probes by the Justice Department into the alleged handling of shoddy mortgages.
Data-center equipment provider Arista Networks priced its initial public offering late Thursday at $43 a share, above the expected to range of $36 to $40. The stock is due to begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange Friday under the symbol "ANET."
Hertz Global Holdings slumped 10% after the car rental company said it would have to restate results of the past three years, citing a material weakness in internal financial-reporting controls. Hertz also said fiscal first-quarter results are likely to miss analyst expectations as a result of costs associated with the accounting review.
Write to Tomi Kilgore at email@example.com