The October jobs report put a cloud over Wall Street Thursday, even though the actual results won't be out until Friday morning.
This jobs number is taking on added significance because the Federal Reserve is warning that a December interest-rate increase is possible. A strong jobs number would only fuel expectations of rate hike--the first in nearly a decade--next month.
"With the market pricing in a better-than-evens chance of a Fed rate hike in December, October payrolls take on added importance," BNP Paribas analysts wrote in a note.
With this kind of uncertainty, stocks had a hard time doing much of anything. The S&P 500 fell just 0.06%, the Nasdaq declined 0.23%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 0.02%.
Expectations are that 205,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy last month, which would be significantly higher than the previous two months.
Worries about a rate hike were revived earlier this week after Fed Chair Janet Yellen said a December increase remained a "live" possibility.
"For now, it's difficult to handicap whether a December rate hike is the central bank's "base case" (meaning that no further economic improvement is necessary) or its "expected case" (meaning that we'll see a rate increase in December, if the economy evolves as the Fed anticipates), but a strong reading tomorrow could make the question moot regardless," said Matt Weller, senior market analyst at Forex.com.
Aside from jobs nerves, a number of earnings reports kept trading active on Thursday. Facebook (FB - Get Report) climbed 5% after sales jumped 41% as marketing efforts paid off and video ad dollars rolled in. The company also said that most of its users now access Facebook on their mobile phones, which offers a more attractive advertising model.
Kate Spade (KATE) to a profit in its recent quarter as efforts to diversify from its handbag business paid off. Total sales rose 11% over the quarter, driven by healthy demand in North America which helped it avoid the currency exchange pitfall. Shares jumped nearly 10%.
But they weren't all positive. SeaWorld (SEAS - Get Report) slid after a disappointing quarter. The theme park chain has been under pressure since ethical questions over orca captivity hit attendance levels. Qualcomm (QCOM - Get Report) also disappointed after issuing weaker-than-expected first-quarter guidance.
The losses kept on piling up for Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) which fell to its lowest level in more than two years. The drugmaker's shares have suffered a steep decline since accounting fraud accusations were leveled against it. Billionaire investor Bill Ackman, one of the company's most vocal supporters, has lost around $2 billion on his investment. Shares fell more than 14% on Thursday and have lost nearly 60% since the beginning of October.