Futures Up; Job Losses Less Than Forecast

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stock futures began trading sharply higher, pointing to a more positive open Friday after the government offered a much less dour assessment of the labor market than had been expected.

After moving mixed and flat before the Labor Department report, futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were gaining 90 points at 10,399 and were 87.9 points above fair value. Futures for the S&P 500 were adding 9.80 points at 1099.4, and were 10.20 points above fair value, while Nasdaq futures were gaining 19.75 points and were 18.77 points above fair value.

A mostly flat Thursday session, highlighted by investors' hesitancy ahead of today's jobs report, ended with stocks locking in some gains in the last hour of trading. The Dow finished up 51 points, extending its 255-point surge from Wednesday.

But the Friday session became all about jobs, jobs, jobs. The Labor Department said employers shed 54,000 jobs from nonfarm payrolls in August. Though a loss, the drop was half of what was expected by most Wall Street economists. Consensus projections provided by Briefing.com were calling for the headline number to drop by 120,000.

But as expected, the nation's unemployment rate edged up by a tenth of a percent to 9.6%.

Market participants, however, were also looking past the headline numbers to focus more closely on private-sector hiring. On that front, the report said employers added 67,000 positions last month compared to expectations calling for a pick-up of 44,000 jobs.

The government also revised down its prior assessments, now saying nonfarm payrolls dropped by 54,000 in July from the 131,000 loss originally reported.

The Institute for Supply Management will also release its August gauge of service sector activity at 10 a.m. EDT. The index is expected to edge lower to a reading of 53 after hitting 54.3 in July.

In company news, BP ( BP) said costs related to the Gulf oil spill have touched $8 billion and that it has paid out some $399 million for claims.

The recent string of M&A news carried over into Friday after Goldcorp ( GG) said it would buy Australian miner Andean Resources for $3.4 billion, topping an all-stock offer from rival Eldorado Gold ( EGO).

In earnings news, Take-Two Interactive ( TTWO) was the big winner in extended-hours trading after the videogame maker -- with titles such as Red Dead Redemption and Mafia II in its stable -- blew away second-quarter earnings and sales estimates while offering an upbeat outlook. At $355 million, revenue beat the Street's view by more than 18%, while adjusted earnings landed at 28 cents a share vs. projections for a 6-cent loss.

Campbell Soup ( CPB) also topped earnings expectations Friday morning by 3 cents in reporting a fourth-quarter profit of 33 cents a share. But sales declined by 1% to $1.52 billion, and the company's guidance underwhelmed.

Walgreen ( WAG) also said its comparable-store sales in August rose 2.1%, which was under projections.

In the U.S., eyes will also be focused on the Eastern Seaboard as Hurricane Earl begins to flank the region.

In commodity markets, crude oil for October delivery was gaining 18 cents to trade at $75.20 a barrel, and the December gold contract was trading lower by $6.30 cents at $1,247.10 an ounce.

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The benchmark 10-year Treasury note was down 1 1/32, boosting the yield to 2.746%.

Meanwhile, the dollar was trading lower against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index down by 0.2%.

Overseas, Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.5% higher, while Japan's Nikkei gained 0.6%. The FTSE in London was ahead by 0.4%, and the DAX in Frankfurt was improving by 0.4%.

--Written by Sung Moss in New York.

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