Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Employment Data Bangs Stocks

People in the Bronx were probably wondering what that sound was right about 8:15 am, emanating from the financial district across the East River. It was the collective groans of investors heard upon the release of this morning's ADP Private Employment Report [PDF] for March.

The private data compiled by the experts at ADP should be held in much higher regard than the government's overworked and over-adjusted non farms payroll data, though it is not. Too many people have come to the erroneous conclusion that the government data is reliable, when nothing could be further from the truth. ADP, which, unlike the government, has no agenda to promote, offers a clear view of who's hiring, who isn't and in which sectors jobs are either gaining or losing.

This morning's report showed a decline of 23,000 jobs from February to March, and also revised February's loss from 20,000 to 24,000. So, the company has reported a total of 47,000 job losses in the private sector over the past two months.

And we're supposed to be in a recovery. The pundits and promoters on CNBC and in the financial press will tell you that employment is a lagging indicator, but believing in this kind of lag is getting a little bit old, so to speak. The economy "officially" turned the corner out of recession in the third quarter of 2009 (Remember "cash for clunkers?"), so, according to the usually suspect "experts", the US began growing again in July of 2009 and has continued to accelerate, or so we're led to believe.

Third Quarter 2009 GDP, according to the final estimate provided by the BLS, was up 2.2%, and the 4th quarter was up by even more, something on the order of 5.6%, again, according to official government estimates, which begs the question of how an "estimate" can ever be deemed "official."

In any case, it's now been 9 full months since the economy began to "recover,' but nowhere are there new jobs to be found, accentuated by today's ADP report. Many investors are still not going to be convinced that the economy isn't growing until the government data is released on Friday, which happens to be the Christian holiday of Good Friday, thus, the markets will be closed as is the tradition.

Now, when the government comes out with its data, expected to show an increase of anywhere from 75,000 to 300,000 jobs, the real story will be underneath the headline number and it will say that most of the new jobs were temporary Census jobs which will end in August. So, the big question for tomorrow is whether investors will come to their senses and realize that the March jobs number is, in reality, going to be pretty much a stinker, and get out of he way of the coming sell-a-thon, or will they stand fast, close ranks and defend their stakes in corporate America?

The answer will be provided within the next 24 hours, but I'm betting, based on today's down-up-down pattern, that stocks won't be affected too badly, only because our insider friends at Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup will be there to backstop any precipitous decline, to say nothing of the clandestine work of the PPP.

It should be fun to watch, but, the truth of the matter is that jobs aren't gaining, and 9 months is an awful long LAG, somewhat unbelievable.

Dow 10,856.63, -50.79 (0.47%)
NASDAQ 2,397.96, -12.73 (0.53%)
S&P 500 1,169.43, -3.84 (0.33%)
NYSE Composite 7,447.80, -12.92 (0.17%)

Declining issues laid all over advancers, 3885-2575. New highs: 337; new lows: 52. Nothing unusual there, but volume was a bit higher than normal, an ominous sign for the Bulls.

NYSE Volume 5,221,368,500
NASDAQ Volume 2,398,859,000

Commodity traders may be in an even deeper state of denial than equity traders. Oil for May delivery rose another $1.39 today, to $83.76. Gold gained $8.80, to $1,113.30 and silver was up 20 cents, to $17.51.

This is where it gets tricky. The dollar index was down pretty sharply on the jobs report, which pushed commodity prices higher, though it's a fool's trade, because there's simply slack demand, no inflation and therefore, all asset classes should be discounted, not appreciated. The US dollar will rise and fall in the currency markets for a boatload of different reasons, most of them speculative, but the deflationary spiral continues unabated.

For a better perspective, US treasury bonds offer some clues, as they were driven higher today, pushing down yields, a natural occurrence following a weak economic report. The bond market is screaming double-dip, while the commodity and equity markets - which require much less discipline - are still lining up on the side of economic recovery. They both can't be right, and the smart money would side with the bond sellers, who must demand more in a weakened situation.

The US is in better shape than Europe, though not by much. Probably the best places outside the US to put money to work would be Brazil or India, whose economies at somewhat detached from the US-Europe-China triad.

No comments: