With a January jobs number that was well short of expectations, at 151,000, the reaction from Wall Street was truly a puzzler. One could have easily gone with the "bad news is good news" meme, because if the economy is deteriorating (hint: it is) and layoffs are rampant (they are), then the Fed may not be able to justify any more increases in the federal funds rate this year.
That would be undeniably good for stocks.
All the major indices took a nosedive right out of the gate, correctly predicted by the futures trading, which collapsed as soon as the number came out, an hour prior to the open.
So, what were the market mavens reading into the garbled mess that was the January Non-farm payrolls report?
Perhaps they looked at the wage growth, which was impressive, up a solid 1/2 percent, an unusually large jump, but probably the result of new legislation in a number of states which mandated higher minimum wages, which were where all the new jobs are - at the low end.
Or, the market might have reacted to the 4.9% unemployment rate, an unbelievable number, and again, a sign of a strengthening economy, which gives the Fed some latitude in raising rates. In any case, the odds of a rate increase later this year jumped on the news, sending stocks down the drain.
What traders see in the numbers may be far removed from what the numbers actually revealed, and the numbers themselves may not be very believable. After all, who actually believes that of those 151,000 jobs created, 58,000 of them were in retail? Remember, this was January, when retailers are normally laying people off after the holiday season. And this was no normal January either. Big chains, from Wal-Mart to Macy's to Sears were closing stores and letting people go. So, just who was hiring all these retail employees?
Then there were the 47,000 jobs created in the food service industry. Really? McDonald's, Applebee's, et. al., were hiring in January? The report also included a manufacturing sector increase of 29,000 jobs, which runs contrary to the recent ISM and PMI manufacturing jobs outlooks.
Money Daily warned yesterday that the BLS is famous for convoluted schemes to concoct bad figures and massive revisions, making the initial releases almost comical, and this one certainly fit the bill.
November and December were revised in opposite directions. The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for November was revised from +252,000 to +280,000, and the change for December was revised from +292,000 to
+262,000, for a net loss of 2,000.
We also noted that the number would not be influential to markets unless it was a big overshoot or a big miss. It was a big miss, with the consensus estimate at 190,000. Besides being down more than 100,000 from December - even after the revision - it's a massive miss, and one that the market apparently could not readily overlook.
Overall, the damage to equity markets was pretty severe. The NASDAQ closed at its lowest level since October, 2014, some 17 months hence.
For the week:
S&P 500: -60.19 (-3.10%)
Dow: -261.33 (-1.59%)
NASDAQ: -250.81 (-5.44%)
The day's rout:
S&P 500: 1,880.05, -35.40 (1.85%)
Dow: 16,204.97, -211.61 (1.29%)
NASDAQ: 4,363.14, -146.42 (3.25%)
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