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October's jobs report is expected to show a pickup in hiring from last month, and while it won't have an immediate bearing on the Fed's next interest rate decision, it could be one last economic pinata for the final days of the presidential election.
Economists expect to see 175,000 nonfarm payrolls, up from 156,000 in September. The unemployment rate is expected to fall to 4.9 percent from 5 percent, and average earnings are expected to rise by 0.3 percent, according to Thomson Reuters.
Market strategists are quick to point out that the jobs report comes just days after this month's Fed meeting, and the Federal Open Market Committee will have the November employment report and other fresh data to consider at its Dec. 14 meeting. The Fed is widely expected to hike rates for the second time in 10 years in December, if financial conditions and the economy are strong enough.
"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."
The jobs data, therefore, may be of more use to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the campaign arena if it is 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 said the number could be more important for Clinton than Trump. "First of all, she needs something to deflect attention away from the slump she's in."
The jobs data is released at 8:30 a.m. ET Friday, and if it's weaker than expected it could hurt risk assets, like stocks. Treasury yields would fall, which they have been doing this week as Trump has gained in the polls.
Stocks on Longest Losing Streak Since Financial Crisis
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.
Most Expect Decent Numbers
The jobs number, however, does have a chance of being a bright spot.
"I'm looking for 190,000, a little warmer," said Diane Swonk, CEO of DS Economics. "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." Swonk said online retailers 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 is 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. "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 say they are 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.