The jobs data, therefore, would've probably been more use to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the campaign arena if it had been either very weak or very strong.
"If it's anything like the GDP report, it helps her. … If it's a good number, he'll say it's fake. If it's a bad number, he'll have a field day with it," said Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments. Valliere on Thursday said the number would be more important for Clinton than Trump. "First of all, she needs something to deflect attention away from the slump she's in."
Economists viewed the data as about in line with expectations. The unemployment rate held steady, and the report revealed a tightening labor market with the highest wage increases - 2.8 percent - in the current economic cycle. The unemployment rate
Stock futures rose slightly after the report Friday morning, and Treasury yields held mostly steady though the 2-year yield initially inched higher. Stocks on Thursday were lower for an eighth day, the longest losing streak in the S&P 500 since October of 2008. The S&P fell 9 points to 2,088, breaking key support at 2,097 and now just 6 points above its 200-day moving average. The Dow was down 28 at 17,930, a four-month low.
"I think as a notion, there's less emphasis on the employment report over the election results," said Ian Lyngen, head U.S. rate strategist at BMO. "You do have a presidential election that could in and of itself tighten financial conditions. I'm not quite surprised by the lack of interest in the employment series."
The move up in polls by Trump, amid new revelations about the FBI's investigation into Clinton emails, has helped flatten the yield curve, said Lyngen. Markets have been wary of a Trump presidency since he is less of a known factor, and some of his positions, such as on trade, are seen as potentially harmful to the U.S. and global economy. But while the markets have been somewhat comfortable with the idea of a Clinton victory, there is also concern that she would be weakened by ongoing investigations by the FBI and potentially by Congress.
"The markets are scared you could see a material tightening of financial conditions without the Fed doing anything," said Lyngen. Fed watchers have said the likelihood of a Fed rate hike in December would diminish dramatically if markets react violently to the election.
The jobs number, however, does have a chance of being a bright spot.
"Retailers are hiring a little earlier than they were. They have pulled ahead hiring to try to compete. It's a sign of a tighter labor market," said Diane Swonk, CEO of DS Economics. She was looking for about 190,000 jobs, aided by online retailers that have already been adding staff to distribution centers ahead of the holidays.
"Consumer confidence surveys show the current situation is fine. Employment is fine. It's the expectations that have deteriorated, which you could expect to see, given how ugly this election has gotten," said Swonk.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch was looking for 170,000 nonfarm payrolls.
"That's kind of like a Goldilocks number right now. It looks like the labor force participation rate has finally turned higher. If we can mark time with an unemployment rate of 5 percent and decent job growth for a while, it's the best thing that could happen to this economy. It's one of the better stories in the economy right now," said Ethan Harris, chief global economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, before the jobs report. "People are coming back to work. Wages are starting to pick up. I think the labor market is going to confirm it's one of the bright spots right now."
Goldman Sachs economists said they were looking for 185,000 jobs. The economists noted that much of the slowing in September was focused on state and local government employment, education and health care employment. Those areas added just 14,000 jobs in September, down from their 12 month average of 61,000. "A partial rebound in these sectors — with other sectors steady — would be enough to lift payroll growth into the high-100K range," they wrote in a note.
Besides the employment report, there are also earnings from Duke Energy, Humana, NRG Energy, PG&E, Madison Square Garden, FirstEnergy, NGL Energy Partners, Shutterstock and Virtu Financial before the bell. Berkshire Hathaway reports after the market close.
There are three Fed speakers to watch Friday, and the most important will be Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, who speaks on a panel at the IMF at 4 p.m. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart speaks at 9:30 a.m. at a realtors conference, and Dallas Fed President Rob Kaplan speaks at a bank forum in Mexico City.