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RTRS: Stock futures recover from a drop after U.S. airstrike on Syria
By Yashaswini Swamynathan
U.S. stock index futures were flat on Friday, recovering from a drop after a U.S. airstrike in Syria, which U.S. officials described as a one-off attack that would not lead to wider escalation.

* S&P 500 futures had dropped by 0.5 percent late Thursday after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a targeted military strike against an airfield in Syria from which a deadly chemical attack was launched this week.

* Helping the futures recovery was a cordial start to a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

* Xi urged cooperation on trade and investment. Trump has said he wants to raise concerns about China's trade practices and press Xi to do more to rein in North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

* Oil prices jumped more than 1 percent as the airstrike raised concerns that the conflict could spread in the oil-rich region. Safe-haven gold hit five-month highs. [O/R]

* Energy stocks were among the top gainers among the S&P 500 constituents trading premarket. Exxon (XOM.N) was up 0.6 percent, with Chesapeake (CHK.N), Apache (APA.N) and Devon Energy (DVN.N) all up about 1.5 percent.

* Focus is also shifting to U.S. payrolls, due later in the day, for further cues on the strength of the economy. Job growth likely slowed in March after unseasonably mild weather boosted hiring over the prior two months.

* The Labor Department's report at 8:30 a.m. ET (1230 GMT) is expected to show nonfarm payrolls likely slowed to 180,000 in March, from 235,000 in February.

* However, data on Wednesday showed private sector hiring rose the most in over two years, and is likely to bump up the final count.

* A robust jobs number will add to other recent healthy economic data and possibly give the Federal Reserve more confidence to begin trimming its $4.5 trillion balance sheet.

* New York Fed President William Dudley is scheduled to speak at a conference on financial regulation at 12:15 p.m. ET.

* Merck (MRK.N) sank 3.1 percent after regulators denied the company's move to label some of its diabetes drugs as safe for heart patients.

* Wal-Mart (WMT.N) edged up 0.6 percent after Telsey Advisory Group upgraded the stock to "outperform".

Futures snapshot at 7:06 a.m. ET:

* Dow e-minis 1YMc1 were up 3 points, or 0.01 percent, with 48,132 contracts changing hands.

* S&P 500 e-minis ESc1 remained unchanged, with 268,167 contracts traded.

* Nasdaq 100 e-minis NQc1 were up 0.25 points, or 0 percent, on volume of 51,677 contracts.

(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza)