* U.S. non-farm payrolls easily tops expectations
* China exports grow in February
* Futures up: Dow 116 pts, S&P 6.4 pts, Nasdaq 9.5 pts
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, March 8 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were poised for a
higher open on Friday, with the S&P 500 on track to rise for a
sixth straight session and the Dow set to scale fresh peaks
after a much stronger than expected payrolls report.
Data showed hiring increased in February, with payrolls
jumping by 236,000, easily beating expectations for a gain of
160,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, the
lowest since December 2008.
"Great report - there just isn't anything that I can pull
out negative at all about this report," said Darrell Cronk,
regional chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank
in New York.
"It is taking a little bit of this argument off the table
that the Fed is doing all the heavy lifting in the economy,
there is a trend building in the economic data that, while not
off-the-charts-great, is definitely moving in the right
The data helped futures to add to earlier gains triggered by
data from China. Exports in the world's second-biggest economy
soared 21.8 percent in February from a year ago, exceeding
expectations and suggesting global demand may also be on the
mend. Imports fell 15.2 percent to 13-month lows.
"With promising Chinese economic data, the market is
enthusiastic and continuing its positive run, fueling additional
optimism ahead of the employment data," said Andre Bakhos,
director of market analytics at Lek Securities in New York.
"There appears to be a high confidence level the payroll
numbers will be better than consensus given the peek at the
private payroll numbers earlier this week."
The benchmark S&P index has advanced 1.7 percent in
the week, its biggest weekly gain so far this year, on data
showing an improving labor market picture and expectations the
Federal Reserve will not end its economic stimulus program soon.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended Thursday at a
record high for a third consecutive session and the S&P is about
2 percent away from an all-time intraday high as investors have
kept any dips contained by seizing the opportunity to buy.
But investors were mindful of the possibility of a pullback
after the steady gains this year, as the last correction for the
benchmark S&P index was nearly a year ago - a 9.9 percent slide
between April highs to the start of June.
S&P 500 futures rose 6.4 points and were above 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 gained 116
points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 9.5 points.
Later in the session, the Commerce Department will release
wholesale inventories for January at 10:00 a.m. (1500 GMT).
Economists in a Reuters survey forecast inventories to rise 0.3
percent versus a drop of 0.1 percent in December.
The Federal Reserve said on Thursday the biggest U.S. banks
had enough capital to withstand a severe economic downturn, with
all but Ally Financial passing the annual health check of the
McDonald's Corp gained 1.8 percent to $98.80 in
premarket trading after the fast-food hamburger chain said
February sales at established restaurants fell just 1.5 percent,
a little better than expected.
Pandora Media shares jumped 25.3 percent to $14.70 in
premarket trading on stronger-than-expected quarterly results.
The company also said CEO Joseph Kennedy is stepping down in a
SkullCandy Inc shares tumbled 18.9 percent to $5.45
in premarket trading after the headphone maker reported
higher-than-expected fourth-quarter revenue but said it expects
to post a loss in the current quarter.