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U.S. Stock Futures Rally on Employment Data

02/01/2013 | 09:12am US/Eastern
   By Matt Jarzemsky and Tomi Kilgore 

NEW YORK--U.S. stock futures traded higher, following blue-chip stocks' biggest monthly rally in over a year, as a closely-watched employment report showed recent months' job growth was sharply higher than initially reported.

Less than an hour ahead of the open, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures advanced 101 points, or 0.7%, to 13898. The Dow pulled back on Thursday, but still posted its biggest monthly gain since October 2011 and its steepest January rally since 1994.

Standard & Poor's 500-stock index futures added nine points, or 0.6%, to 1503 and Nasdaq 100 futures climbed 19 points, or 0.7%, to 2745. Changes in stock futures don't always accurately predict stock moves after the opening bell.

U.S. employers added 157,000 jobs in January, the Labor Department reported, falling short of the 166,000 new payrolls predicted by economists in a Dow Jones Newswires poll.

But the department said the economy added an average of 181,000 jobs a month all of last year, better than the 153,000 pace originally reported, as it revised initial readings for November and December sharply higher.

Last month's unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9% from 7.8% in December. Economists had predicted it would remain unchanged.

Average hourly earnings rose 0.2%, in-line with economists' views.

A preliminary reading of the Thomson-Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for January, due out at 9:55 a.m. EST, is seen ticking up to 71.5 from December's 71.3. At 10 a.m. EST, the Institute for Supply Management's January manufacturing purchasing managers index is expected to rise to 51 from 50.2 in December, and construction spending for December is forecast to rise 0.6% on the month.

Among stocks seeing premarket activity, Dow component Merck slipped 2.7% after the drug maker reported fourth-quarter earnings and revenue that fell from year-earlier levels, although they topped analyst estimates, as generic competition continued to hurt pharmaceutical sales.

Also in the Dow, oil giants Exxon Mobil edged up 0.6% after reporting a 5.9% increase in fourth-quarter earnings, while Chevron was unchanged after its quarterly results.

European markets were mostly higher, with the Stoxx Europe 600 up 0.4%, after Markit's euro zone purchasing managers' index, a measure of manufacturing activity, contracted at the slowest rate in 11 months. That helped lift the euro currency to a 14-month high against the dollar.

Spanish stocks bucked the trend by selling off sharply after a ban on short selling was lifted. The IBEX 35 index dropped 1.7%.

Asian markets were broadly higher on the back of strong Chinese manufacturing data and further weakness in the yen. China's Shanghai Composite climbed 1.4% to a nine-month best after HSBC's January purchasing managers index rose to a two-year high. In Japan, the Nikkei Stock Average gained 0.5% to a near three-year high, as the yen slid to the lowest level seen against the dollar since June 2010, after data showing the December unemployment rate rose slightly above expectations to 4.2%.

Front month March crude oil futures gave up 0.2% to $97.32 a barrel, while February gold futures gained 0.7% to $1,673.20 an ounce.

In other corporate news, Mattel fell 2.3% after the toy maker missed fourth-quarter earnings expectations, and revenue also came in a bit shy, overshadowing a 16% increase in its quarterly dividend.

Tyson Foods rallied 3.7% after the meat processor beat earnings estimates, offsetting a slight miss in revenue, as operating margin increased and interest costs slipped.

Life Time Fitness slid 15% after the company indicated fourth-quarter earnings and revenue would fall short of expectations, citing lower membership growth and higher membership acquisition costs.

McKesson fell 3% after the medical-products distributor missed fiscal third-quarter earnings forecasts and trimmed its full-year outlook.

Alkermes shed 6.3% after Ireland-based Elan said it sold all of its remaining 7.75 million shares stake in the biopharmaceutical company. Elan's U.S.-listed shares were still untraded ahead of the open.

Audience surged 30% after the smartphone audio processing technology company reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings, and said it expects to report a profit for the current quarter while analysts had been projecting a loss.

Write to Matt Jarzemsky at matthew.jarzemsky@dowjones.com

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