Anxious investors haven’t known what to do with stocks over the last three days but it’s a virtual certainty that equities will find some direction after the December employment numbers are released an hour before the opening bell.

“Rarely has a piece of data ever been so eagerly awaited,” said David Buik, senior partner at BCG Partners in London, according to the Journal. “Today may well hold the key to the Kingdom for the next few months.”

An hour before the data comes out, futures on the Dow are up 13 points to 10,558 and the S&P 500 looks to open 1.25 points higher at 1,138.75. Global stocks have also been trading modestly higher and Treasuries are a bit weaker.

WTI Crude oil down 14 cents to $82.52 per barrel and Spot Gold is $7.78 by to $1123.82.

Key Events Today:

8:30 ― The Employment Situation report is the most influential and closely watched data point to be released each month. For December the attention will be even more heightened as, following an 11k drop in November, many economists are predicting the first signal of labor growth in the economy since December 2007. The median estimate is for a gain of 10k jobs, which would be the first positive print in two years.

“Even if it doesn't happen this month, job gains won't be long delayed,” said economists from IHS Global Insight. “Job losses slowed so sharply in November that we think a modest setback is more likely this month, and expect payroll employment to decline by 30,000.”

Economists from Nomura look for a gain of 20k jobs in the month, noting that fresh data over the last month has turned to a turning point in the labor market, including the four-week average for initial jobless claims falling by 30k during and returning to its "pre-Lehman" level of 450,000.

“Surveys of employment conditions also generally improved,” the added. “For example, the employment components of several business surveys (manufacturing and services ISMs, Philadelphia Fed, and Chicago NAPM) increased, and consumers' perceptions of job market conditions in the consumer confidence report turned brighter.”

Predicting the market reaction, analysts from BMO said “the psychological lift from a positive print would likely juice equities and possibly the U.S. dollar. Conversely, Treasuries could get a temporary reprieve if our estimate of a modest decline in jobs is realized.”

Aside from the payrolls number the report will released the unemployment rate, which in November fell two ticks to 10.0%. A return to single-digits could be convincing that the jobless peak was reached in October.

“Note that, with today’s release, the BLS will revise the seasonally-adjusted data for the household survey back to 2005, which may result in minor adjustments to the unemployment rate,” said analysts from BMO.

10:00 ― Well, let’s not kid ourselves, few will be thinking about the Wholesale Trade report. But for those who care, the consensus is for a 0.3% decline.

Sal Guatieri from BMO commented: “The slower rate of inventory drawdown should provide a large boost to Q4 GDP growth, which we currently peg at 3.7%. Further, the fact that inventories remain razor thin should provide ongoing support to production in 2010.”

10:15 ― Eric Rosengren, president of the Boston Fed, speaks on the economy at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association's annual economic summit.

12:45 ― Dennis Lockhart, president of the Atlanta Fed, will speak on the economic outlook at Atlanta, GA.

3:00 ― Consumer Credit has contracted for nine straight months and it looks as though that will continue in November. Estimates range from a $7 billion contraction to an increase of $3 billion in credit outstanding, but the consensus view is for a $5 billion cut.