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Five Things We're Watching: March 3, 2011

Retailers mark up to avoid a mark down, stocks tango with oil, the ramp-up to Jobs Friday, the man behind the world's biggest hedge fund and the rebel with the motorcycle. Here's some of what we’re watching—and which, therefore, you should as well.

retail sales
Steven Puetzer | Getty Images
retail sales

The $87 Billion Man: "Besides believing in radical truth, I believe in radical transparency." Nope, not something Charlie Sheen said this week. That's a quote from hedge fund titan Ray Dalio' controversial "Principles," which dictates the culture at Bridgewater, the world's largest hedge fund. Not only does the firm manage a massive $87 billion in assets, all of its funds brought in double-digit returns last year. While some call Bridgewater a cult, we'd call those numbers reason enough to pay attention to anything the man has to say about investing—at 8:30 am on Squawk Box in a rare television interview.

The Red Flag Sale: This is America, the land of the mighty consumer, but also the land of sales and discounts. With commodity prices—from oil to cotton—rising, the cost of doing business is raising red flags in the world of retailers. These companies are trying to raise prices, but no one knows if the price hikes will stick. The smart money sees a 3.6 percent jump when retailers report February chain-store salesThursday. Analysts are looking for Saks and Costco to lead the crowd.

The Oil-Stock Tango: About a year ago, we watched the dollar-stock trade. These days, the oil shock is all traders want to talk about. We had brief periods on Wednesday when stocks broke out from oil’s grip, as our Trader Talk blog noted, but looming worries about the wave of revolution aren’t going away… and if instability makes its way to Saudi Arabia, the crude anchor will surely weigh heavily on equities.

Give 'em hell, Zell: That’s what supporters of one-time Georgia Gov. Zell Miller used to urge… and we'll be doing the same when Sam Zell, the motorcycle-loving billionaire, sits down with Squawk Box Thursday. We want one sound bite after another: Our personal favorite from his November CNBC appearance was his description of the Newsweek-Daily Beast deal as "two ants mating under the ant pile." Of course, the news business hasn’t worked out so well for Mr. Zell, but the property market's a different matter. And with real estate front and center for the economic recovery, the Equity Group Chairman is about as proven a sage as you'll find.

Much Ado About Jobs: If you hear the beating drum, that's the market readying for Friday morning's massive monthly labor report. In the meantime, Thursday's slate of economic data will offer tea leaves to investors trying to play Nostradamus. Key to watch: whether the weekly jobless claims can build on a sub-400,000 trend, and how the employment section reads in the Non-Manufacturing ISM Report. Despite 15 million unemployed, there are a bunch of jobs going unfilled. Our Bertha Coombs will have the story on Thursday.