Futures mostly lower as Street awaits data

U.S. stock index futures pointed to a flat to lower open on Thursday, as investors started the countdown to Friday's jobs report, while digesting the economic data of the week so far.

Ahead of the opening bell, weekly jobless claims came in at 278,000. Revised fourth-quarter productivity declined 2.2 percent, while unit labor costs rose 3.3 percent.

The key data for the day is the ISM non-manufacturing survey for February due at 10 a.m. ET. The figure is expected at 53, down from 53.5 in January.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

It had been 55.8 the month earlier and in January a big part of the decline was in business activity. There is also Markit services PMI at 9:45 a.m., and that is expected at 50.5 after a surprising decline to 49.8 in January. Any reading below 50 signals contraction, and that drop had spooked traders.

Factory orders is due at 10:00 a.m.

The big report to watch, however, is the February employment report Friday morning, and it's expected to show 190,000 jobs and an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent, according to Thomson Reuters.

Global Head of G10 strategy, Steven Englander said general consensus for the nonfarm payrolls is 195,000, with Citi economists predicting 200,000.

"If we get the consensus or stronger, the focus will be U.S. rates and the dollar, both headed up. If we get our economists' forecasts then the inflation and labor market tightness concerns are more subdued. It would give the Fed leeway to signal pause, without being a sign of economic disaster, so more an equities play," he said.

"The other question is whether there is a reading that would put March on the table/lean the Fed hawkish, or that would take June completely off the table. It is very hard to imagine a circumstance now in which either occurs," he added.

There are also earnings from Ambarella, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Wingstop, Broadcom, H&R Block and Planet Fitness after the close.

Dallas Fed President Rob Kaplan speaks at 10:45 a.m. ET on the economy and monetary policy.

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European equities paused for breath after a rally in equities over the past few days, after Asian stocks ended higher on Thursday.