Job growth has remained vibrant despite the slow-growing economy, and that's a trend investors are anxious to see confirmed in the February employment report on Friday.
Even with some economists expecting growth around 1 percent for the first quarter, the labor market has been strong, and economists expect to see 185,000 jobs added in February. The economy is widely expected to bounce back in the second quarter to a pace well above 2 percent, after the temporary headwinds from the government shutdown and polar vortex abate.
The jobs data tops the list of important economic news in the week ahead, particularly after a string of disappointing reports showing that both consumers and businesses have pulled back.
The stock market will pass a major milestone on Wednesday—the tenth anniversary of the day the market bottomed in 2009, when the S&P 500 hit 666. The S&P has gained more than 312 percent since that low of the financial crisis, and some analysts see the bull market continuing for at least another year.
"We think there's further upside for this bull market to go. The age of the bull does not matter. What really matters is how healthy it is," said Patrick Palfrey, U.S. equity strategist at Credit Suisse. "Whatever the concerns, around trade tariffs, or decelerating corporate profits, we believe this bull market remains very healthy."
The S&P 500 is taking aim at the 2,800 level, an important milestone that it has struggled to surpass in the past week. The 2,800 marker was an important level for the stock market four times in past several months, and holding above it could signal the rally could drive stocks to fresh highs.
Palfrey said investors first and foremost are looking at any information that can help them gauge how the economy is doing. "We're looking for confirmation in the jobs report. We think the economy is doing okay. Labor participation is improving. We're going to see that continuing to inch back up," he said.
The Citigroup economic surprise index fell to a new 18-month low Friday, following a recent rash of disappointing reports. When economic reports come in below economists' expectations, the surprise index falls and a low number for the index is reflecting the economic slowdown.
Goldman Sachs economists Friday said they were expecting first quarter growth of just 0.9 percent, but they raised second quarter growth to 2.9 percent.