Thursday, June 3, 2010

Amidst Confusion, NASDAQ Gains; Jobs Data Looms

There are more than just a few trades riding on the release of tomorrow's BLS non farm payroll report for May. Estimates for the number of jobs created in the US economy during the month run the gamut from 250,000 to 600,000, the latter number suggested as a best guess by the intrepid mind of Jan Hatzius at Goldman Sachs, who has a history of being generally close, often far off, but almost always too optimistic.

The Hatzius estimate is anecdotally cute, in that he calls for private sector job growth of just 150,000, with the rest of the number comprised of temporary census hires.

A couple of hints as to how strong the job growth was during the month came from a few sources. On Wednesday, both President Obama and Vice President Biden hinted strongly in separate speeches that the figures would be substantial, but on Thursday, two real pieces of economic data, the ADP private sector report [PDF] and the weekly report of new and continuing unemployment claims, suggested something of the opposite.

The ADP report, which is generally reliable to be as accurate or even moreso than the overly-massaged government figures, pegged private sector job growth for May at a fairly tepid 55,000. Initial unemployment claims came in at 453,000, still stubbornly high, with continuing claims at 4.67 million, a staggering figure and suggestive that job creation simply isn't occurring in the private sector, or at least that permanent jobs are not being created.

Meanwhile, pesky problems such as the European debt crisis, the Gulf of Mexico oil slick, and China canceling a planned trip to the country by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, dogged investors throughout the session.

Stocks zig-zagged all over the map, with internals reflecting the rocky trading. The Dow was up 65 points early, down 75 points by midday, and rallied off the lows into the close for a fairly flat trade. The NASDAQ demonstrated leadership in energy and tech shares, the index positive throughout the session.

The NASDAQ is also the only one of the majors to show positive returns for the year.

Dow 10,255.28, +5.74 (0.06%)
NASDAQ 2,303.03, +21.96 (0.96%)
S&P 500 1,102.83, +4.45 (0.41%)
NYSE Composite 6,860.43, +20.82 (0.30%)

By the end of the session, advancers held a solid advantage over declining issues, 5015-2447, and new highs took back the edge over new lows, 154-70. Volume was light once again, as many traders have stepped away in advance of the non farm payroll report.

NYSE Volume 5,404,948,000.00
NASDAQ Volume 2,063,167,375.00

Commodities were mixed. Crude oil for July delivery gained $1.75, to $74.61, on a government report that showed a decrease in supply. The oddity of the oil market is its apparent one-way bias. During the winter, when the same weekly report as today's continually showed excess supply, the price advanced regardless. With supply down, it's logical for prices to rise, though the opposite should be true on oversupply, but it isn't.

Gold fell sharply, down one percent, or $12.30, to $1,208.30. Silver also lost ground, giving up 38 cents, to settle at $17.92.

As is usually the case the first week of any month, too much emphasis is being placed on the jobs data, especially considering that the numbers coming from government are often wildly off-the-mark and subject to massive revisions in future months.

After Wednesday's huge run-up and the flatness of Thursday's trade, it appears that a robust number has already been priced in, and traders could be in for a rout. The alternative, under consideration that the jobs numbers come in solid or surprisingly better than expected, is for investors and momentum players to swing sentiment to wildly optimistic and end the week with another mammoth gain.

Either scenario could emerge, though this may prove to be the economy's last stand before more realistic data confirms or denies the existence of any kind of recovery. From what's been shown thus far, the billions and trillions of dollars thrown into stimulus and for the sake of saving numerous financial institutions has produced at best a weak rebound.

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