Friday Look Ahead is All About Jobs

Jobs data is the big ticket item for Friday's markets after Thursday's mostly sideways move in stocks.

Trepidation about the U.S. economy filtered through financial markets Thursday as stocks were barely changed, the dollar was under pressure, and oil trended slightly lower. The yield on the 10-year perked up slightly, moving to 3.903 percent, while the yield on the two-year continued to contract, to 2.823 percent.

Wall Street is expecting the December jobs number, due at 8:30 a.m., to be fairly weak with some economists expecting the U.S. added about 50,000 new jobs in December, a reduced forecast.

"We're going to see some soft number," said Andrew Busch of BMO Capital Markets. "If it comes in above 50,000, it would be a good number. If you look at ADP, you look at Monster, and you look at Challenger, all of these things, including weekly jobless claims, are all pointing to some pretty soft numbers."

Besides the outcome of Thursday's Iowa caucuses, traders are curious about a meeting President Bush is holding Friday with a working group on financial markets. The group includes Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and SEC Chairman Christopher Cox. Bush plans to give a speech on the economy Monday.

The President is also considering a new fiscal stimulus package. In an interview with Reuters Thursday, Bush said that he is considering using his state of the union address to announce a stimulus package. He said he has not yet made up his mind and is soliciting ideas from his advisers.

Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn speaks Friday morning at the American Economic Association Annual Meeting in New Orleans. His topic is Expertise and Macroeconomic Policy, and he will take questions from the audience.

Weakening Dollar

The dollar was under pressure Thursday, and traded at $1.4750 dollars per euro. It was slightly lower against the yen, but the strengthening yen sent fear into the Tokyo stock market early Friday morning. The Nikkei was taking an ugly pounding in early trading on the rising yen and fears about a slowing U.S. economy. The Nikkei was down more than four percent at one point, and exporters' shares were particularly hard hit.

Commodities on Fire

Commodities continue to soar Thursday in U.S. trading. Grains continued to move higher, and gold futures neared a record high. Gold for February delivery was up $9.10 to settle at $869.10 per ounce on the NYMEX, after an earlier move to $872. Soybeans were up 1.5 percent at a record high, and wheat futures ended up 3.3 percent.

Oil fell slightly Thursday, ignoring new data on tight supplies. It did though manage to cross the $100 marker again, setting a new high of $100.09 per barrel before sliding back down. Crude finished at $99.18 per barrel on the NYMEX, off 0.4 percent.

The Dow finished up 12.76 at 13,056.70. The Nasdaq fell 6.95 points and the S&P 500 was unchanged at 1,447.16.

Stocks in the News

After the bell Thursday, Bed Bath and Beyond reported a lower quarterly profit and warned about fourth quarter results. Its stock fell sharply.

Reuters quotes a source saying New York state prosecutors have subpoenaed Wall Street firms for information on the packaging and selling of high risk mortgage debt.

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