Job seekers wait in line to meet with a recruiter during a HIREvent job fair at the Hotel Whitcomb on July 10, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. - 

The number of Americans filing new jobless claims is now at its lowest level since the early days of the economic downturn, according to a new report from the Labor Department. Weekly applications dropped 12,000 to 350,000. Officials add the report is well clear of the immediate effects from Superstorm Sandy.

The other story weighing on the markets is the so-called fiscal cliff. For weeks now, the major indexes have responded strongly to any news on the negotiations.

But, with the deadline just days away, what can investors realistically expect?

"The best I think we could hope for," say Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, "is some kind of a grand plan outline. I don't think you could get through the details." There isn't enough time now, she says, to sort out the real problems and real uncertainty about fiscal policy.

But will it be enough for now?

"We won't be popping champagne corks on New Year's Eve with just an outline of a deal and some kind of postponement," says Swonk. It would be hard to assume that the gridlock that has been consuming Congress for years would somehow magically dissolve, she adds.

Follow Jeff Horwich at @jeffhorwich