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Wall Street sets bar low for Friday's payrolls report

The end of another record-setting week for U.S. stocks brings the nonfarm payrolls report for February, and Wall Street is braced for another low number impacted by the harsh winter still being felt across much of the country.

"The expectation is that it's going to be disappointing, which is pretty reasonable given the still-miserable weather over a good portion of the country," said Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank.

"The margin of error for the jobs report is getting wider and wider; the last two months did not get a huge reaction, even though they were on the disappointing side. I think that will continue to be the case," said Paul Nolte, senior vice president and portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management.

Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
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Trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The consensus is for 130,000 to 145,000, "plus or minus something, and my guess would be that it is probably not going to deviate significantly," said McCain.

But given Wall Street is now accustomed to disregarding poor economic reports as due to the weather, "it would have to be really bad to put in a major downside to the market," McCain added.

(Read more: What to look for in Friday's jobs report)

"We can say unequivocally that a weak number is entirely expected by nearly every client with whom we've met. There is near universal agreement that February will be weak, and that it won't matter since it will be dismissed as weather impacted," emailed Dan Greenhaus, chief strategist at BTIG, who points to estimates calling for job growth of about 150,000.

While little reaction is expected to a disappointing number, the opposite could be said about a surprise to the upside.

"An upside surprise would catch investors very, very off guard," offered Greenhaus.

—By CNBC's Kate Gibson.

  • Patti Domm

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

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