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US STOCKS-Futures point to slight gains in shortened session

Ryan Vlastelica
Friday, 29 Nov 2013 | 9:02 AM ET

* Dow, S&P and Nasdaq on track for third straight monthly gain

* Markets closing at 1 p.m., trading expected to be light

* Retailers in view as shopping season unofficially kicks off

* Futures up: Dow 35 pts, S&P 3.6 pts, Nasdaq 14 pts

NEW YORK, Nov 29 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures pointed to a slightly higher open on Friday, with investors reluctant to make big bets in an abbreviated session, though major indexes remained on track for their third straight month of strong gains.

Trading will likely be anemic, as it has been all this week, with many investors out for the Thanksgiving holiday. The stock market will close three hours early at 1 p.m. (1800 GMT), following an all-day closure on Thursday.

The light action could amplify market volatility, though there are few obvious trading catalysts, with no economic indicators on tap. That may make it difficult for markets to extend their recent rally, though retail stocks will be in focus as the holiday shopping season begins.

"There's nothing to trade on today, but the market is in a momentum story and the rally doesn't seem to be running out of steam," said Robert Russell, president of Russell & Co in Fairborn, Ohio.

Equities have surged in recent weeks on the back of expectations for continued stimulus from the Federal Reserve. The Dow and S&P 500 closed at record highs on Wednesday while the Nasdaq ended at a 13-year high.

Retail stocks will be in focus as investors attempt to get an early read on the strength of the holiday shopping season. "Black Friday" typically marks the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season, but many stores opened on Thursday and offered steep discounts.

"I'm happy with the size of the crowds I've seen so far; it is very important to see the consumer, especially the mid-level consumer, alive and well over the coming weeks," said Russell. "The important thing will be whether shoppers stay excited through the season."

S&P 500 futures rose 3.6 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 added 35 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 14 points.

For the month of November, the Dow is up 3.5 percent, the S&P is up 2.9 percent and the Nasdaq up 3.2 percent. It is the third straight month of gains for these indexes, with the Dow climbing 8.7 percent over that three-month period, the S&P up almost 11 percent and the Nasdaq rising 12.7 percent.

For the week, the Dow is up 0.2 percent and the S&P is up slightly more than 0.1 percent, with both indexes on track for their eighth straight weekly gain. The Nasdaq is up 1.3 percent on the week.

While the Fed's stimulus program is expected to put a floor under equity prices for as long as it continues, recent volatility has come on uncertainty over when the program will end. The central bank has said it would begin to slow the program when certain economic measures meet its targets. Data on Wednesday, including on the labor market and consumer sentiment, pointed to economic improvement.

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