Before the bell: U.S. stocks were headed for a flat open, as investors brace for the government's closely watched monthly jobs report, due before the opening bell.
Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were little changed ahead of the market open. Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance.
Stocks ended higher Thursday, as investors digested comments about the economy from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke -- who said a weak job market continues to weigh on the recovery.
While investors will be eyeing Friday's employment report closely for signs of improvement in the labor market, they remain confident in the overall economic recovery, said David Jones, chief market strategist at IG Markets.
"Earnings have been pretty good, the U.S. GDP was overshadowed by Egypt but that was good too, and overall the economic recovery in the U.S. still seems to be fairly stable and steady, so I expect to see more strength," said Jones. "Even when we see weakness like at the end of last week and early this week, we still see people happy to step in and buy."
According to economists surveyed by CNNMoney, employers are expected to have added 149,000 jobs in January, after adding 103,000 jobs in December.
Despite the gains, the unemployment rate is expected to tick back up to 9.5%, as some of the unemployed return to the labor force to search for jobs. The unemployment rate dropped to 9.4% in December.
Jones said that given the disappointing jobs reports from the last couple of months, investors are looking for any indication of a brightening employment picture -- so stocks are likely to gain if the numbers are in line with expectations.
Companies: Shares of JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) slipped 1.2% after allegations late Thursday that the investment bank was warned about Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme years prior to its collapse, but did nothing to stop it.
Shares of JDS Uniphase Corp. (JDSU) surged 18% in pre-market trading, after the communications equipment maker logged quarterly earnings after the market close Thursday that widely beat expectations.
Early Friday, Aetna (AET, Fortune 500) also reported stronger-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings and boosted its dividend, sending shares of the company 8% higher.
After the market close Thursday, Las Vegas Sands (LVS, Fortune 500) posted disappointing earnings, sending shares of the casino company 6% lower in pre-market trading Friday. Other casino stocks, including Wynn Resorts (WYNN) and MGM Resorts International (MGM, Fortune 500), shared the pain. Shares of Wynn tumbled 8%, while MGM shares slumped more than 2%.