Stocks face a dicey stretch in the coming week as investors brace for Friday's employment report, which will set the tone for the upcoming first-quarter earnings season. "The potential exists for the market to sell off in advance of the employment data , because we've been tricked now a couple times," said Paul Nolte, director of investments at Hinsdale Associates. He was referring to February's report, when analysts expected to see a 125,000 increase in nonfarm payrolls, but just 21,000 materialized. A similar disappointment occurred in January's report. Nolte thinks investors could be overconfident this time, too. "It's a 'shame on me, shame on you, it's not going to happen again'-type feeling," he said. Jim Melcher, president and market strategist at Balestra Capital, also put an emphasis on the employment report. "It's become the data point du jour," he said. "Every market has its own set of statistics that everybody focuses on, almost at the exclusion of everything else." While labor angst rises, investors' fear of terrorism finally seems to be waning, Nolte said. "That news has a shelf life of a week to two weeks," he said, though fresh incidents would obviously lash the market anew. Conversely, any news of the military getting closer to capturing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden would be a positive for stocks. On the strength of Thursday's rally, the Dow closed the just-completed week up 0.2%, while the Nasdaq slid 1% and the S&P 500 decreased 0.2%. The government's March employment report will be released before the start of trading Friday. The report has lately been a disappointment, showing the economy is not adding jobs at a rate fast enough to satisfy analysts that an economic recovery is sustainable. Consensus is that 100,000 nonfarm jobs will be added, with the unemployment rate unchanged at 5.6%. Economists have said they would like to see at least 150,000 jobs added for three months in a row to show that the economy is indeed on the mend.