What investors are looking for in the jobs report

Trading the S&P ahead of jobs
Trading the S&P ahead of jobs   

With oil stabilizing, a mixed earnings season ending and Greece concerns abating, Friday's monthly jobs report is a key indicator for the U.S. economy.

Consensus expects creation of 230,000 nonfarm payrolls in January, with an unemployment rate holding steady at 5.6 percent and wage growth of 0.3 percent. Last month, a 0.20 percent decline, or a 5-cent drop, in hourly earnings jarred markets.

The total nonfarm payroll accounts for about 80 percent of the workers who produce the entire gross domestic product of the United States.

Traders work the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Getty Images
Traders work the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Goldman Sachs expects unemployment of 5.5 percent and wages to grow 0.4 percent, noting in a report that "calendar distortions and an unusual pattern of holiday retail hiring likely accounted for most of the downside surprise."

However, Goldman analyst David Mericle said this week's economic indicators argue for a weaker report overall, with expectations of nonfarm payrolls below consensus at 210,000.

More importantly, the firm expects wage growth to increase by 2.75 percent in 2015, above last year's 1.7 increase but "still well below the 3 to 4 percent wage growth that Fed Chair Janet Yellen has identified as normal."

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Besides positive wage growth, JJ Kinahan, chief derivatives strategist at TD Ameritrade, wants to see jobs growing in manufacturing, other than the typically strong job growth sectors of bars and restaurants.

Most analysts are looking beyond the actual figures to the overall trends that signify a strengthening economy.

"We are now in the longest stretch of uninterrupted job growth of 51 months," said Jeffrey Saut, chief investment strategist at Raymond James.

Weekly jobless claims came in less than expected on Thursday, adding to the economic growth narrative.

The number of planned layoffs by U.S. employers rose to a nearly two-year high of 53,041 jobs in January, according to a report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The 63 percent increase from the previous month came mostly from hits to the energy sector from low oil prices.

A greater-than-expected trade deficit of $46.6 billion—the largest since November 2012—will likely weigh on U.S. GDP growth, which initially came in at a disappointing 2.6 percent for the fourth quarter last Friday.

U.S. stocks closed up more than one percent on Thursday, posting the first gains for the year. The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 211.8 points, or 1,20 percent, at 17,884.88, with Pfizer and DuPont leading gains as all blue chips advanced. The S&P 500 closed up 21.01 points, or 1.03 percent, at 2,062.52 with materials leading gains across all sectors. The Nasdaq closed up 48.39 points, or 1.03 percent, at 4,765.10.

Mergers and acquisitions news drove Pfizer and Ball Corp.shares significantly higher. Encouraging earnings from L Brands and Sirius XM offset weaker reports from Michael Kors and Keurig Green Mountain. Reporting after the bell on Thursday, Twitter, Activision Blizzard, GoPro were among the tech names that beat expectations. The only major company to report earnings on Friday will be Moody's before the bell, as the earnings season winds down.

Oil recovered to settle above $50 a barrel with gains of nearly 4 percent after closing almost 9 percent lower on Wednesday. Movements in the commodity have stayed within a $45 to $55 range this week.

"The bullish factor is that oil prices have stabilized," said Bruce Bittles, chief investment strategist at R.W. Baird. "Now that oil prices have stabilized (investors) are changing attitudes towards the global economy."

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Concerns about the Greek debt negotiations abated, as the Greek finance minister continued to meet with euro zone leaders and confidence of an eventual deal set in.