U.S. employers likely maintained a fairly strong pace of hiring in December, suggesting that a recent but sharp manufacturing-led slowdown in economic growth would be temporary.
Nonfarm payrolls probably increased by 200,000 jobs, just a slight step down from the 211,000 created in November, according to a Reuters survey of economists. The unemployment rate is expected to have held steady at a 7-1/2-year low of 5%.
A solid employment report could soothe fears over the economy's health by showing recent weakness largely contained in the manufacturing and export-oriented sectors, which have been hit by a strong dollar and anemic global demand.
Efforts by businesses to whittle down an inventory glut and spending cuts by energy companies have also inflicted pain.
"The U.S. economy is a two-sided economy. The domestic sector continues to power job growth. There is a risk that the weakness in manufacturing could spread to services, but we don't see that right now," said Thomas Costerg, a senior economist at Standard Chartered Bank in New York.
In the wake of soft reports on manufacturing, construction spending, and export growth, economists this week slashed their fourth-quarter growth estimates by as much a full percentage point to as low as a 0.4% annual rate. The economy grew at a 2% rate in the third quarter of last year.
The Labor Department's closely monitored jobs report, which will be released on Friday at 8:30 a.m., could offer a brief respite to global stock markets after heavy selling this week sparked by signs of slowing growth in China.
While labor market resilience would favor another interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve in March, economists say financial market turmoil and concerns among policymakers over low inflation suggest the U.S. central bank may stay on the sidelines a bit longer.
The Fed last month raised overnight interest rates by a quarter percentage point to between 0.25 and 0.50%, the first increase in nearly a decade, and a subsequent move at its next meeting this month was already seen as off the table.