The employment reports from Canada and the United States are the first significant, hard economic data so far in the new year, and an early indicator of the shape of the economy at year's end.
The early speculation is that the reports may surprise on the upside, particularly in the U.S., giving some comfort to investors.
A consensus of economists in Canada points to a 20,000 pickup in employment, reversing two consecutive monthly declines that saw 73,000 jobs vanish and the unemployment rate rise to 7.4 per cent.
Currently, about 1.5 million Canadians are out of work.
Analysts note that the Canadian consensus is little more than an educated guess, however, since there is little published data on which to base a forecast.
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U.S. economists have more concrete reasons for their optimism on jobs, including Thursday's ADP national survey suggesting employers took on 325,000 new workers in December, twice previous expectations.
ADP, or Automatic Data Processing Inc., is a New Jersey-based business services outsourcing company.
But Scotiabank economist Derek Holt cautioned that the ADP survey should be taken with a grain of salt. As a predictor of Friday morning's official non-farm payroll data, it has been spotty at best.
"While we’ll be happy to be surprised higher . . . we can’t stress enough that ADP is notorious for throwing off misleading signals," he said. He added that the 325,000 number was the largest gain ever recorded by the ADP in its 10 years of existence, another red flag that the today's data may disappoint.
Early unofficial signals in Canada were mixed. The Conference Board said both its help-wanted index for cities and nationally rebounded after a few negative months. The think-tank cautioned that the national index suggested Canada could still have lost 6,700 jobs last month.
In general, economists expect jobs growth in Canada will be moderate at best throughout the year. The economy must create about 15,000 new jobs each month just to keep up with labour growth.
In a radio interview Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was concerned about the impact the weak global economy will have on Canada.
"Obviously there are some things we have to do," he said. "We will be moving forward this spring with an aggressive series of economic measures to create jobs and growth — not just now — to make changes in a wide range of policies of the federal government to really try and position this country to create jobs and growth over the longer term."
Harper offered no specifics, but the government is moving aggressively to cut government operating costs and reign in the deficit, which is projected at over $30 billion this year. Ottawa is also expected to loosen foreign investment rules on the telecom industry and seek to expand trade with emerging nations.