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The Associated Press April 1, 2011, 9:17AM ET

Stocks set to rise after unemployment rate falls

Stocks were poised for modest gains Friday after a key report showed that the unemployment rate fell to a two-year low in March.

The dollar surged against key currencies on signs the troubled U.S. labor market is recovering.

The Labor Department said that the unemployment rate fell to 8.8 percent, the lowest since March 2009, as companies added workers at the fastest two-month pace since before the recession began. Approximately 216,000 new jobs were added to the economy last month, offsetting layoffs in local governments. Economists had expected the unemployment rate to remain at 8.9 percent.

Ahead of the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 66 points, or 0.6 percent, to 12,319. S&P 500 futures gained 7, or 0.5 percent, to 1,328. Nasdaq 100 futures rose 13, or 0.6 percent, to 2,349.

This is a day heavy with economic data. Later this morning, the Institute of Supply Management will issue its manufacturing index for March. Economists anticipate that the index fell slightly from February, when it hit its highest level since May 2004. The manufacturing sector of the economy has expanded for the past 19 months. Separately, the Commerce Department will issue a report on the construction of new homes in February.

Auto companies will release March sales figures throughout the day.

Nasdaq OMX Group and IntercontinentalExchange said early Friday that they are making a bid for NYSE Euronext, offering what they say is a 19 percent premium to the deal the company struck with the operator of the German stock exchange.

The Dow Jones industrial average finished Thursday with its best first-quarter performance since 1999, rising 6.4 percent in the first three months of the year. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 30.88 points, or 0.3 percent, to 12,319.73. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 2.43, or 0.2 percent, to 1,325.83. The Nasdaq composite rose 4.28, or 0.2 percent, to 2,781.07.

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