) -- An economist who gets a cookie also wants a glass of milk.

To illustrate expectations ahead of Friday's monthly jobs report, look back only one month ago when monthly forecasts were still in the 150,000 ballpark for newly created jobs. After monthly gains ticked north of 200,000 in December and

then again in January, economists are now looking for the same to happen in February.

Like expectations for declining jobless claims, the outlook for hiring is ramping up steadily. "Growth in hiring in the services sector is good, but now we want to see jobs being created in sectors that pay more, like manufacturing and professional services," says Quincy Krosby, market strategist with Prudential Financial. "We want to see a broader foundation for job growth because that points to sustainable economic growth."

The consensus, according to Thomson Reuters, for February is 225,000 new private-sector jobs for a total net job gain of 210,000, just shy of the 243,000 net new jobs created in the month of January. Unemployment last month likely stayed put at 8.3%.

Already, payroll processing firm Automatic Processing Data has come out with encouraging monthly figures, reporting earlier this week that companies

added 216,000 new jobs in February.

Economists are saying that the ADP may have even underestimated the gain in the official count. "That's what it did in January when the ADP series rose 173,000, while the comparable official private payrolls rose 257,000," notes Ed Yardeni, economist at Yardeni Research. "Ditto all last year when the ADP data averaged monthly gains of 156,400, while the official tally averaged 174,250 per month."

High Frequency Economists, which is looking for the government to report 250,000 new jobs, also notes the ADP tends to undershoot. The firm's estimate is only accurate within 100,000 each month, a far cry from perfectly precise.

Jobless claims are supporting a bullish thesis for hiring.

Despite a slight rise in the latest weekly claims due to seasonal factors, unemployment benefits are near a four year low if one looks at the four-week average for weekly jobless claims. That average has fallen since mid-2011 and is down 86,000 from its peak of 440,000, according to High Frequency Economics. Year-over-year, claims having fallen at a rate of 10%.

"The economic story underpinning the slowing in the pace of layoffs in recent months is the recovery in bank lending to businesses, which is making it much easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to hold onto staff whom they might otherwise have had to lay off," explains the research firm.

Claim numbers from 2012 are piecing together a better story than they did early last year. When claims rose between March and April of 2011, slowing payrolls followed by late spring and early summer, notes High Frequency Economics. A decline in claims should forecast better payroll numbers, as was the trend beginning in July of last year.

As for the macro picture, the economy is projected to grow at 2.5%, a faster pace of growth than 1.7% seen in the last year. Optimists point to the improvement while pessimists say growth isn't fast enough yet to pull down the unemployment rate.

Some economists think that a shrinking workforce due to retiring baby boomers may bring down the jobless rate faster than expected. That trend may counter the effect of discouraged workers coming back into the workforce to look for jobs, which would push up the jobless rate.

On Thursday, stocks were bouncing back after a sharp triple digit pullback on the Dow Jones Industrial Average Tuesday. The conviction behind Wednesday and Thursday's rally has been weak, so if the jobs report surprises to the upside, it could give stocks a boost.

The reaction to a disappointing jobs report seems harder to predict. The knee jerk reaction could be a pullback. But, Quincy Krosby warns that a weak jobs report could underscore that the Federal Reserve may intervene with monetary stimulus sooner. Indeed, yesterday's market moving headlines included a report that the Fed is thinking about a new bond buying program. Under the plan, the central bank would buy mortgages and long term Treasuries while controlling inflation expectations.

"The market is paying close attention to what the Federal Reserve might say," adds Krosby. In other words, if investors believe stalling jobs growth signals that the Fed is coming to help, stocks should get a cue to rise.

-- Written by Chao Deng in New York.

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