NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The market will swap Greek debt for nonfarm payroll data as a trading touchstone as Friday morning progresses, and expectations are for a healthy February jobs number. It's an aberration in the jobs number, though, and not the expectation just being met, that will be required to influence the markets. Last month, the nonfarm payroll number came in at 243,000, the third-consecutive up month and a significant beat of consensus, leading to an up day for the markets. The February nonfarm payroll consensus is for 204,000, according to Bloomberg -- other consensus figures come in around the 210,000 mark -- but just meeting that number isn't likely to stoke outsized investor confidence. "For us to see something that really moves the market, the number needs to be significantly outside of expectations, otherwise it's just noise more than anything else," said Phillip Silverman of money manager Kingsview Capital. "If we do see a soft number and it suggests that things are potentially slowing, we could see the market start to come down, because it has gone up so much." In fact, the jobs number has to be viewed within the context of the huge market rally of early 2012. The two-month equities run, and nine straight weeks of moving up and to the right on the chart, has resulted in the best equities spike since 1991. The extent of the rally was behind Tuesday's sudden selloff, and with the past two days erasing that stumble, the jobs number is one more data point to which the markets will look for conviction, either bearish or bullish. Expectation isn't conviction, but merely a sign that the U.S. economy recovery isn't moving off track. Gary Thayer, chief macro strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors, said that he is most interested in whether a jobs number that beats consensus fails to move the market, which would suggest to him that this rally has reached its exhaustion point. "We haven't seen any really good news lately that the market didn't like, but we also have a lot of good news built into the market as a result and high expectations. If we get 250,000 jobs and it doesn't move the market, we could see some more consolidation," Thayer said. He cautioned that it is too early to say a couple of days rebound from Tuesday's selloff is enough to stop investors from exiting profitable positions.
The January nonfarm payroll number sent the markets to their then-high point of 2012. The economist forecast range for the nonfarm payroll report is wide, with the
bears expecting 180,000 jobs and the most bullish forecast calling for 275,000 jobs added in February. The number of Americans filing claims for jobless benefits last week rose to 362,000, holding close to a four-year low. Tuesday's selloff brought into focus many of the market's consistent pressure points from the past two years: slowing in China, a more general slowdown in the emerging markets, and a European debt crisis that continues to keep investors on edge. The rally that has trumped these concerns has been one of relatively low volume. "I'm not overly optimistic despite the move we've have had. Investors have not been participating in the rally as if there was a lot of confidence and that suggests to me there is still upside potential here, but we have to get through some more digestion, a rebuilding of the energy we've had in moving up," Thayer said. Silverman noted that the volume during Tuesday's selloff was much higher than typical volume during the extended rally of 2012 or the bounce back of the past two days. "I'm not ready to bet against the market, but I'm not putting on a majorly bullish bet either. We are actually slightly bearishly positioned after the past two days," he said. Some experts see a silver lining in a weak jobs number: it could prompt the Federal Reserve to ease monetary policy yet again. The most recent layoffs report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, reported layoffs virtually unchanged in February, at 51,728, and there was a note of caution in the report as job cuts shifted from the government to the consumer and transportation sector. "While the decline in government job cuts is certainly promising, surging job cuts in consumer products and transportation are particularly worrisome. These are strong indicators of economic health, especially as it relates to consumer spending. Both sectors are undoubtedly feeling the impact of rising fuel prices as heavy users of fuel, but also from their dependency on consumers, who are being forced to spend more on gasoline and less on the products and services provided by these firms," CEO John Challenger said in a release.
Wells Fargo's Thayer said that the U.S. economy has proven resilient, and central banks around the globe continue to pursue easy money policies. That suggests that liquidity is still increasing, which supports price-to-earnings ratios even if global growth is a little bit diminished. The current crop of U.S. earnings showed the slowest growth among U.S. companies in several quarters. "Yet look at what the market has done. The liquidity is offsetting weakness in earnings," Thayer said. The jobs number will be a capper on a week that has included a dose of panic and one more sign of the market's ability to bounce back. The Chinese growth situation can still exert pressure on equities, Europe isn't out of the woods by any means, and what Silverman says are some signs of U.S. slowing in leading economic indicators all point to reasons for the rally to sputter. However, "so far the trade has been to continually buy stocks and go with it," Silverman said. Just don't expect investors to "go with it" on Friday if labor market expectations are just met. -- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Eric Rosenbaum. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to Eric Rosenbaum. Follow TheStreet on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.