Friday, May 4, 2012

Payroll Number Slams Stocks to the Deck

Yesterday in this space, it was suggested that the immediate future for stocks was all tied to today's non-farm payroll number from the BLS, and, as the ADP figure from Wednesday foretold, the results were lower than expectations and on the whole, put a serious dent in the "road to recovery" theory.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said 115,000 net new jobs were created in April, and the unemployment rate dipped to 8.1%, though the reason for the decline in unemployment were that more people ran to the end of their unemployment benefits and others left the workforce entirely. The US workforce participation rate shrank to 63.6% of the adult population, the lowest since 1981.

While the 115,000 new jobs are barely enough to keep pace with a growing workforce in normal times, in the abnormality of today, people are not entering the labor force, but leaving it, putting a very large question mark at the end of any discussion regarding jobs in the United State. It is obvious from this report and others before it that the country's businesses are simply not creating enough jobs to get back to anything even close to full employment. The reasons behind the non-hiring conditions are manifold, but are centered on lack of demand in a sluggish economy wracked by over-regulation and conflicting visions of the near future by legislators who have sat upon their hands and watched the economy deteriorate.

Stocks took a beating right at the start and continued their downward trajectory throughout the morning, finally bottoming out around the lunch hour. The remainder of the session was spent wringing hands, with no noticeable movement in either direction, as the major averages settled into a support range.

A variety of analysts took differing views on the NFP number, most making he point that this April number was a kind of "payback" for the strong numbers in January and February. However, those gains were - in a large part - due to accounting tinkering at the BLS with seasonal adjustments heading the suspect list of fudge-makers.

Governments shed 15,000 jobs, so the private sector growth was 130,000, which, after all, is still a gain, but the underlying trends of many marginally-employed people and those dropping out of the workforce remain problematic over the long haul. The 115,000 was well below consensus estimates for 162,000. whatever ways one wishes to spin it or slice it, a miss is still a miss and investors took note along with short term profits.

The results speak for themselves and put the country's economic future more or less on hold until the May numbers are released. That's a long time for uncertainty to fester and other events to take the situation to even worse levels. While a good portion of the labor condition is being led by political considerations, most of it is the pure stuff of economics textbooks. Slack demand and stagnancy, even in an era of absurdly low interest rates, makes hiring decisions problematic and possibly shelved for a future date. The decay of confidence at all levels of the business community continues to feed upon itself in a very non-virtuous loop, the most egregious effects being felt in the small and start-up areas, where most new jobs are created.

Analysts and pundits can make up all the excuses and white lies they like, but the numbers speak for themselves and they are not pretty.

Notably, new lows exceeded new highs for the first time in over a month, losing stocks were widespread, outnumbering winners by a 7:2 ratio. Oil took a severe downturn for the second straight day, closing below $99 per barrel for the first time since February. The $4.05 decline was the largest of 2012. Gas at the retail pump remains stubbornly high, despite recent pull-backs.

Gold and silver rebounded from recent declines, more in sympathy with unstable global economic conditions than any other factor.

Dow 13,038.27, -168.32 (1.27%)
NASDAQ 2,956.34, -67.96 (2.25%)
S&P 500 1,369.10, -22.47 (1.61%)
NYSE Composite 7,933.29, -116.59 (1.45%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,937,374,375
NYSE Volume 3,924,361,250
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 1268-4345
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 88-140
WTI crude oil: 98.49, -4.05
Gold: 1,645.20, 10.40
Silver: 30.43, +0.42

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