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As goes January ... so expect a volatile year

As January comes to a close, the stock market is down about 3 percent, and it has already set the tone for a much more challenging year.

As goes January, so goes the year, is the adage. It has been right in 62 of the last 85 years, or 73 percent of the time.

"Since World War II, whenever the market was down in January, the average price change was usually flat in the remaining 11 months," said Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist with S&P Capital IQ. "It was a gain of 0.1 percent on average. It was basically a coin toss as to whether the market rose or fell for the year."

(Read more: Stocks down in January...if history repeats!)

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If the January barometer rings true, stocks could be lower for the year, but most Wall Street strategists expect the market to be higher, and a few see it as ending flat.

(Read more: Why you should totally ignore the 'January barometer')

They do agree on one thing, however: Trading will be more volatile, and January has certainly already set the pace for that. The VIX, the CBOE's volatility index, has gained 26 percent for the month, while the S&P 500 has declined nearly 3 percent to 1,794.

"Our target is 1940, which implies only a 5 percent price appreciation," Stovall said. "We think it's going to be an under-average year ... wrought with volatility. More importantly, I would look to sectors within the S&P to get an idea. The market is leaning defensively and it is leaning cyclically."

Utilities, for instance, are the best performers since Jan. 1, up 2 percent. Health care is the second best performer, up 1.7 percent.

(Read more: Best growth in 10 years despite govt headwinds)

Stocks will trade around another batch of earnings Friday and also the seesaw reactions in Google's and Amazon's late Thursday earnings.

Google missed estimates on the bottom line but its shares rose after its report, while Amazon missed on the bottom line and its shares were punished after it offered a weaker revenue outlook.

Stocks were higher Thursday, with the Dow rising 109 points to 15,848, its third triple-digit move this week. The Dow is down just 0.2 percent for the week, despite the whipping volatility. For the month, it is down 4.4 percent.

Stocks were lifted by a strong GDP report that showed 3.2 percent growth in the fourth quarter and some positive earnings news. But analysts expect the downside slide to quickly resume, even if Friday is positive for stocks.

(Read more: Outlook for company profits is getting pretty ugly)

"We had a 4 percent correction, which really took place in one day," said Steve Massocca of Wedbush Securities. "I'd like to see the market break down to that November low—1,746, 1,750. That would get some more attention. We need that kind of thing to happen. Whether it happens with this decline, or later on, is yet to be seen."

There is another surge of earnings news Friday, including Chevron, MasterCard, Honda, Aon, Autoliv, Brookfield Office Properties, Mead Johnson, Paccar, Legg Mason, Weyerhaeuser, Mattel, and Booz Allen Hamilton.

(Read more: Focus again on emerging markets)

There is also personal income and spending data, employment costs, core PCE prices, all at 8:30 a.m. ET and consumer sentiment at 9:55 a.m. Chicago PMI is reported at 9:45 a.m.

—By CNBC's Patti Domm. Follow her on Twitter @pattidomm.

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  • Patti Domm

    Patti Domm is CNBC Executive Editor, News, responsible for news coverage of the markets and economy.

  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

  • CNBC Senior Commodities Correspondent and Personal Finance Correspondent

  • JeeYeon Park is a writer for CNBC.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC

  • Rick Santelli joined CNBC Business News as an on-air editor in 1999, reporting live from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade.

  • Senior Producer at CNBC's Breaking News Desk.