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This Friday's report may hold some important clues

A worker monitors a yellow pencil production line at the Musgrave Pencil facility in Shelbyville, Tennessee.
Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A fresh look at September manufacturing activity Friday should be important for markets that are trying to figure out whether August's weakness was a once off or the start of a weaker trend.

Friday's lone U.S. economic report is the September flash manufacturing PMI, expected at 51.9 from 52 previously. The report is released at 9:45 a.m. EDT. There is also Baker Hughes oil rig count data at 1 p.m.

"With data continuing to be at best mixed and probably soft, every one of these data points is going to have market impact" if it does not come in as expected, said James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital. "If it were to make an outsized move, dropping to 50 … then I think it would have an impact." A number below 50 shows contraction.

The stream of soft August data started early on, with the monthly employment report coming in at just 151,000 — 30,000 shy of expectations. Then August ISM manufacturing data showed an actual contraction, dipping below 50. Car sales were soft, retail sales were soft and ISM nonmanufacturing data showed a slowdown in service sector activity.