U.S. stock futures inched higher Friday, but investors were still cautious ahead of the much-anticipated jobs report, which could set the stage for an interest-rate increase as soon as this month.
Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 16 points, or 0.1%, to 18,411, while those for the S&P 500 index tacked on 0.70 point to 2,167.50. Futures for the Nasdaq-100 index were up 6.50 points, or 0.1%, to 4,784.
The muted moves mirror the trading action for most of this week, when investors have been looking toward one key data set: the nonfarm payrolls number. For the week, all three major benchmarks were on track for gains of less than 0.2%.
Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen last Friday indicated at least one rate hike is on the cards this year. Traders hope the August jobs report will provide clues as to whether the first tightening could come at the Fed's September meeting.
"It may take an extreme anomaly in Friday's NFP report to abruptly cool the heated expectations over the Fed raising rates at least once this year," said Lukman Otunuga, research analyst at FXTM, in a note.
Economists polled by MarketWatch expect 170,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy in August, while the broader market consensus is for about 180,00 jobs, according to FactSet.
"A figure below 150,000 could renew concerns over the health of the U.S. economy and potentially erode optimism towards September being a 'live' meeting to act. In extreme cases, a repeat of May's dismal employment report figure of 38,000 could temporarily sabotage all efforts taken by the Fed to act," Otunuga added.
Stocks on Thursday finished mixed in anticipation of the report, clawing back earlier losses that were fueled by disappointing data on manufacturing activity.
The nonfarm payrolls report comes out at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time, along with the unemployment rate for August, which is expected to dip to 4.8%, from 4.9% in July. Average hourly earnings for August and the trade balance for July are also due at that time, followed by July factory orders at 10 a.m. Eastern.