Typically investors would not put much weight in the weekly unemployment report because the numbers can be volatile. But with the rest of the data they have at their disposal tainted by the weather, including Friday's closely watched government jobs report, investors don't have much to work with at the moment. The winter storms died down last week, so this data is the first "clean" reading on the economy.
The figures for weekly unemployment claims coming up over the next several weeks will be the freshest data investors will have, strategists said.
"We won't get a clean reading on the economy until we get through this bad weather," said Quincy Krosby, a market strategist at Prudential Financial.
Expectations for the February job numbers are low. Economists expect that employers added 145,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate held steady at 6.6 percent. Before the bad winter weather hit much of the country starting in December, the U.S. economy was creating around 225,000 jobs a month.Outside the U.S., investors remained concerned about Ukraine, where tensions have been escalating over Russia's deployment of troops to Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula. Moscow-backed Crimean officials said Thursday that the region would hold a referendum to decide whether it should be annexed by Russia. President Barack Obama declared that the referendum would violate international law. In other markets, bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose to 2.73 percent from 2.71 percent Wednesday. Gold rose $11.50 to $1,351.80 an ounce. Gold has risen 2 percent this week as the tensions in Ukraine escalated. ___ Ken Sweet can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kensweet