Is the US economy growing? Investors watch this

The primary data point for investors on Friday is the second reading on the U.S. fourth-quarter gross domestic product growth.

"People are looking at GDP to make sure the economy is still intact," said Marc Chaikin, CEO of Chaikin Analytics.

Economists polled by Reuters expected the revised reading of U.S. growth in the fourth quarter to show a gain of 2.1 percent from a preliminary reading of 3.9 percent. The final reading of the third-quarter GDP showed 5 percent growth.

An employee welds the shell frame of a train car at the Siemens Industry manufacturing facility in Sacramento, California.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
An employee welds the shell frame of a train car at the Siemens Industry manufacturing facility in Sacramento, California.

"Obviously, expectations there are lowered pretty significantly," said JJ Kinahan, chief derivatives strategist at TD Ameritrade. The "GDP can only hurt the market. If we don't meet those expectations we'll be pretty much in trouble (because those expectations are already so low)."

Chris Gaffney, senior market strategist at EverBank Wealth Management, expects less of a pullback on the initial reading of 2.6 percent and a figure that still shows that the U.S. economy is growing as "a star of the developed world."

Thursday's economic data was mostly lackluster, with jobless claims slightly higher than expected and the consumer price index falling the most since 2008 in January.

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However, analysts pointed out that the core CPI figure, excluding more volatile food and energy prices, gained 0.2 percent in January. Durable good orders rose 2.8 percent in January after declining in December.

"Jobless claims in general have been below year-ago levels," said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management. It "indicates unemployment continues its trend lower."

Besides GDP at 8:30 a.m., other U.S. data expected on Friday include the Chicago Purchasing Manager's Index at 9:45 a.m. and Consumer Sentiment and Pending Home Sales at 10 a.m.

"The economy is growing at a modest pace and the data reflects that," said Alan Skrainka, chief investment officer at Cornerstone Wealth Management.

U.S. stocks closed narrowly mixed on Thursday, with stocks near recent highs, as lackluster economic data and oil concerns weighed on investor sentiment.

"What's amazing is the market's ability to hold up in light of what some people say are less-than-favorable economic statistics," Chaikin said. He said the market is "really quite extended at these levels," but he is still bullish on select sectors such as financials, technology and retail, going into March.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 10.1 points, or 0.06 percent, to 18,214.42. McDonald's led gains while Chevron and Caterpillar each fell more than 1 percent as the greatest blue chip laggards.

The S&P 500 closed down 3.10 points, or 0.15 percent, to 2,110.76, with energy closing down 1.8 percent, leading six sectors lower, and information technology the greatest advancer.

The Nasdaq closed up 20.75 points, or 0.42 percent, to 4,987.89, earlier coming within 11 points of reaching the key 5,000 level last touched in March 2000, during the height of the tech bubble.

Avago Technologies, Google and VimpelCom were among the leaders. Apple initially declined before closing up more than 1 percent on news of a special event on March 9.

"Technical influences have obviously impacted market performance of late," said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist for U.S. Bank Wealth Management. "Technically while the market is at all-time highs, we're modestly overvalued, 3 percent above the 50-day moving average."

He said such conditions show more risk and lower levels closer to the moving average would be safer.

Oil continued to trade sideways, with crude oil futures settling down 5.53 percent at $48.17 a barrel, after posting gains on Wednesday. The Baker Hughes weekly rig count comes out on Friday and will shed light on the U.S. production environment.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's mostly dovish congressional testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday will make a series of Fed speakers on Friday morning of less interest, analysts said.

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"Markets have already digested what Yellen has said. If oil prices (are) just sliding around these (levels), the hold on inflation that Yellen indicated would probably continue to be a reason why the Fed is not likely to pull that trigger," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital.

This story has been updated since it was first published to reflect that third-quarter U.S. GDP was confirmed at 5 percent.