U.S. stocks opened higher on Friday, after the release of disappointing U.S. employment data lessened speculation that the U.S. job market will be strong enough to allow the Federal Reserve to continue withdrawing support through 2014.

During early U.S. trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average edged up 0.16%, the S&P 500 index added 0.21%, while the Nasdaq Composite index gained 0.40%.

Official data showed that the U.S. economy added 74,000 jobs in December, compared to expectations for a 196,000 increase, after an upwardly revised 241,000 rise the previous month.

The U.S. private sector added 87,000 jobs last month, disappointing expectations for 195,000 rise, after an upwardly increase of 226,000 in November.

The report also showed that the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 6.7% in December, from 7.0% in November. Analysts had expected the rate to remain unchanged last month.

Tiffany & Co. jumped 1% after the luxury jeweler reported a 4% increase in holiday sales and reiterated its full-year earnings forecast.

On the downside, aluminum producer Alcoa, which kicked off fourth quarter earnings season late Thursday, saw shares plunge 7.20% after reporting that profit missed analysts’ estimates due to a glut of rolled metal used in the aerospace industry.

Separately, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday charged the company with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, saying its "subsidiaries repeatedly paid bribes to government officials in Bahrain."

Alcoa reportedly agreed to pay USD384 million to settle the SEC charges and a separate case announced by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Elsewhere, YRC Worldwide shares sank 20.23% after union workers rejected a labor agreement on Thursday that the trucker has said was required to refinance more than USD1 billion of debt and stave off bankruptcy.

In the retail sector, Sears dove 11.70% after forecasting a fourth-quarter loss and posting lower sales during the holiday period.

Target said stolen information in the recent mass data breach involved as many as 70 million customers, and that its sales have been "meaningfully weaker than expected" since, sending shares down 0.43%.

Across the Atlantic, European stock markets were higher. The EURO STOXX 50 climbed 0.57%, France’s CAC 40 advanced 0.61%, Germany''s DAX gained 0.65%, while Britain''s FTSE 100 jumped 0.85%.

During the Asian trading session, Hong Kong''s Hang Seng Index rose 0.26%, while Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index added 0.20%.

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