Stocks were in a holding pattern before the open Friday as traders awaited the government's monthly employment report.

Futures on the

S&P 500

were trading about a point above fair value. Nasdaq 100 futures were even with fair value. The 10-year Treasury was unchanged in price and yielding 4.96%, and the dollar was mixed against major world currencies.

The news of the day will be out at 8:30 a.m. EDT when the Labor Department releases its July jobs survey. On average, economists are expecting that about 145,000 to 150,000 workers were added to payrolls last month and that the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.6%.

The employment report, always among the most closely monitored releases on Wall Street, is being viewed as having even more significance than usual. That's because

Federal Reserve

policymakers will be meeting next week to decide whether to lift the fed funds target rate for an 18th straight time.

Even with the meeting only four days away, analysts haven't reached a consensus opinion as to whether the Fed will raise rates to 5.5% or leave them unchanged. Since June 2004, the central bank has increased the key short-term lending rate by 425 basis points with a series of quarter-point hikes.

"A weaker number would be good for the market, because that would signal the possibility of a Fed pause next week," Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment officer with Windham Financial, said on Thursday.

Among companies in the news,

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Report

said its internal review of its past options grants had found evidence of additional irregularities, and the computer maker now believes it will probably have to restate some of its past results. Shares of Apple were losing 4.4% to $66.55 in premarket trading.

Hovnanian

(HOV) - Get Report

became the latest homebuilder to offer cautious guidance, saying its third-quarter earnings should be $1.10 to $1.20 a share, down from its prior forecast for a profit of $1.40 to $1.50. For the full year, the company slashed its earnings estimate to a range of $5 to $5.75 a share from its old outlook of $7.20 to $7.40. Hovnanian fell 5% before the bell.

Markets were mostly higher overseas. London's FTSE 100 was gaining 0.4% to 5862, and Germany's Xetra DAX was up 0.9% to 5692. Japan's Nikkei added 0.2% to 15,499, but Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.9% to 16,888.

To view Farnoosh Torabi's video take on today's market, click here

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