Markets are flat to roughly lower as cautious investors await the results of the ADP private employment report and a key index of the services and manufacturing industries in the Midwest.

Two hours before the opening bell, Dow futures are down 12 points to 10,842 and S&P 500 futures are off 1.50 points to 1,168.00. In contrast, WTI crude oil is up 44 cents to $82.81 per barrel and Spot Gold is trading $5.63 higher to $1,109.23.

Late last night, Richard Fisher from the Dallas Fed dismissed the notion of a W-shaped recession and predicted 3% GDP in 2010.

“Anecdotal evidence indicates that, absent some exogenous shock, the recovery that began last summer is unlikely to be reversed and will instead proceed, slowly gathering momentum as we progress through the year. . . It is less than we had grown accustomed to in the heyday before the crisis, and it may not result in as rapid a reduction in unemployment as we would like. But it is positive and noteworthy.”

Fisher also said the Federal Reserver “cannot turn a blind eye to the effect that growing government indebtedness has on investors’ confidence and Treasury yields,” and he said the Fed should avoid purchasing Treasuries because it risks giving the impression that the central bank is “monetizing the debt”.

Key Events Today:

8:15 ― While investors anticipate Friday’s official employment report, which could represent a turning point in the direction of nationwide jobs, markets may give extra attention today to the ADP Private Employment Report. Last month the index showed 20K jobs lost, the fewest in two years. And this month the report could very well jump into positive territory ― the consensus is that 40k jobs were created.

“The anticipation ahead of this Friday’s nonfarm payroll report is building,” said Jennifer Lee from BMO. “The various jobs measures seen recently have supported the view that the worst of the job cuts are behind us and that the jobless rate has appeared to have peaked.”

She said the headline will be viewed with caution because Friday's official numbers will be heavily distorted by public census jobs not accounted for in this report. But many investors and economists will be eyeing the breakdown of results, "between small (still cutting), medium (now hiring) and large-sized (still cutting) firms, and between goods-producers, service-providers, and manufacturing."

Economists from Nomura added this optimistic prediction. “Our forecasts for nonfarm payroll employment are consistent with a gain of approximately 100,000 in ADP private employment. Although we usually downplay the value of this report, it may be more relevant this month given uncertainties about how the Northeast blizzards affected employment.”

9:45 ― Economists believe the Chicago Business Barometer, which has been on a pretty steady gain since December 2008, could see a pullback in March. The consensus is for it to dip from 62.6 to 61.0, but as everything over 50 reflects acceleration that isn’t anything to be disappointed in.

“The Chicago NAPM index is exceptionally high and looks set for a correction,” predict economists from Nomura. “We forecast a modest decline to 59.5 from 62.6, but see additional downside risks. The ‘supplier delivery time’ component should return to more normal levels.”

12:30 ― Dennis Lockhart, president of the Atlanta Federal Reserve, speaks on the economic outlook to a business leaders lunch in Hartford, Conn.

Last but not least...

Today is the last day of the Federal Reserve's MBS Purchase Program.