Futures suggest flat open after February payrolls

March 5, 2011 - 0:0
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Stock index futures pointed to a flat open on Friday as February's jobs report came in better than expected but fell short of the most optimistic expectations. Payrolls rose by 192,000 in the month, above the 185,000 gain expected by a Reuters poll, and the jobless rate unexpectedly dipped to 8.9 percent from 9 percent. Strong data earlier in the week fed optimism that the number would be above 200,000. ""This is an on-par reading, enough to satisfy those who were looking for a stronger number but not enough to placate those who were looking for something well ahead of consensus to make up for the weather-related weakness last month,"" said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia. Bets on big gains in payrolls pushed Wall Street to its best one-day rally in three months on Thursday. S&P 500 futures fell 1.1 points and were under 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 fell 2 points and Nasdaq 100 futures fell 2.25 points. ""My suspicion is the activity you saw yesterday was to make up for the money flow that usually comes in on the first of the month that waited in anticipation of a much stronger whisper number out there,"" said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont. ""So the market as we get into the day may be a little bit disappointed."" The ongoing strife in Libya and its impact on oil prices will be another focus for investors as fighting intensified and rebels advanced toward a major oil terminal. U.S. April crude rose 1.5 percent while Brent crude futures added 0.9 percent. Equities recently have had an inverse relationship with oil prices on the concern that high energy costs could weigh on economic activity. Data on January durable goods and factory orders will be released at 10 a.m., with factory orders seen rising 2 percent from December. Dow component Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) raised its annual dividend by 21 percent late on Thursday. The stock rose 0.8 percent to $52.44 in premarket trading. Robert W. Baird upgraded Intel Corp (INTC.O) and other semiconductor stocks, expecting order trends for semiconductors in personal computers and wireless infrastructure to rebound in the second half of 2011. Intel, a Dow component, edged 0.6 percent higher to $21.92 before the bell. Optimism ahead of the payrolls report gave Wall Street its second straight day of gains on Thursday, though on weak volume, and the put-to-call ratio in the options market didn't change much as traders continued to hedge against a potential drop.