* July nonfarm payrolls 215,000 vs 223,000 est
* Unemployment rate holds steady at 5.3 pct
* Average hourly earnings rise 0.2 pct
* Groupon falls after results miss expectations
* Futures down: Dow 51 pts, S&P 6 pts, Nasdaq 15 pts (Adds details, comment, updates prices)
By Tanya Agrawal
Aug 7 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were set to open slightly lower on Friday after solid job growth in July pointed to an improving economy, opening the door wider for an interest rate hike in September.
Nonfarm payrolls increased 215,000 last month, fewer than the 223,000 forecast by economists, but the unemployment rate held at a seven-year low of 5.3 percent.
Average hourly earnings also increased last month after stalling in June.
“It’s another solid report overall,” said Tom Porcelli, Chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets in New York.
“If you thought that the Fed was going to go in September, this report would suit that (theme) nicely. I think it’s another step toward the eventual liftoff.”
The stock market, which has reached near record levels in the past few years, has benefited from the Fed’s largesse as interest levels remain near zero.
The Fed has said it will raise rates only when it sees a sustained recovery in the economy. A tightening labor market is key in the Fed’s decision to raise rates.
“There is nothing in here that says to me the economy is so weak that the Fed needs to keep rates low,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial in Waltham, Massachuseets.
“I think if we have a disastrous employment report next month, that could give them pause. But if it comes in around where these numbers are, I think it says go ahead and raise rates.”
S&P 500 e-minis were down 5.5 points, or 0.26 percent, with 174,632 contracts traded at 8:44 a.m. ET. Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 14.75 points, or 0.33 percent, on volume of 26,802 contracts while Dow e-minis were down 51 points, or 0.29 percent, with 19,782 contracts changing hands.
Wall Street ended sharply lower on Thursday as weak earnings reports from media companies stirred fears that more viewers are ditching cable TV, dragging the sector to its worst two-day loss since the financial crisis.
With about three-quarters of the S&P 500 companies having reported, second-quarter earnings are estimated to have increased 1.6 percent while revenues are projected to have fallen 3.4 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Nvidia’s shares were up 10.1 percent at $22.52 in premarket trading, a day after the chipmaker reported a surprise rise in second-quarter revenue.
Groupon fell 6.4 percent to $4.37 after the company’s quarterly results missed expectations.
Noodles slumped 18.8 percent to $12.29 after the pasta and sandwich restaurant chain forecast full-year adjusted profit and revenue below analysts’ estimates. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)