Speculation among some was that the

Federal Reserve moved to cut interest rates earlier this week -- and before its next official meeting --

because it had gotten a preview of the December employment scenario and didn't like what it saw.

But the latest

jobs report

is more benign than anticipated and shows that the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4% last month.

Stock futures, which help gauge how investors are reacting to the news, moved higher on the news.

The report sheds some light on the Fed's unexpected decision to cut interest rates on Wednesday. The data -- which includes non-farm payrolls, the unemployment rate, the average workweek and average hourly earnings -- are considered the best measure of the overall health of the economy. It sets the tone for other economic indicators that will be released this month.

Look for it to weigh in heavily on today's trading session.

Nonfarm payrolls for December. Source: Labor Department. Actual: 105,000. Forecast: 102,00. Previous: 94,000.

Average hourly earnings. Source: Labor Department. Actual: 0.4%. Forecast: +0.3%. Previous: +0.4%.

Unemployment rate. Source: Labor Department. Actual: 4%. Forecast: 4.1%. Previous: 4.0%.

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Pool of available workers. Source: Labor Department. Actual: 10.19M. Forecast: n.a.. Previous: 10.001M.

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The Fed's

Federal Open Market Committee on Wednesday cut its key federal funds target rate -- the rate banks charge to lend money to other banks overnight -- by 50 basis points, to 6%. It also cut the discount rate -- the rate it charges member banks for loans -- by 25 basis points on Wednesday and another 25 basis points yesterday, to 5.50%. The surprise rate cut sparked a rally in the market and sent the

Nasdaq Composite Index to a record increase of more than 14% on Wednesday.

That was the first time that the Fed has cut rates by 50 basis points between meetings since 1992. Speculation that the Fed would make some kind of intermeeting cut had increased over the past week, particularly after Tuesday's weak Purchasing Managers' Index showed that manufacturing had slowed to its lowest levels since 1991. But most people had expected the Fed to wait for today's jobs report before making a move.

Average hourly earnings were expected to rise 0.3%. On a year-over-year basis, average hourly earnings are currently up 4.0%, the highest since January 1999. With prices seemingly on the move (the prices index in the National Association of Purchasing Managers report rose sharply in December, despite weakness in the manufacturing sector) and wages on the rise, this could prove to be a complicating long-term factor for the Federal Reserve, which could be dealing with some combination of slowed growth and rising inflation, not a pretty picture.

New home sales for November is also due out today. It is considered a good gauge of near-term spending on housing and of consumer spending as a whole.

Forecasts are from


. Times are Eastern. For a longer-term economic calendar and more, see


Economic Databank.