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Sometimes Reading is Required

February 10, 2014 2:25 pm
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The talk in the markets on Friday was all about the jobs report. For the second month in a row, the headline nonfarm payrolls number was a big surprise – and not in a good way. For the second month in a row, the number of new jobs created in the U.S. came in well below expectations. And yet, for a second month in a row, traders didn’t seem to care.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 113,000 new jobs created in January. While this may not sound bad, consider that the consensus estimate was for that number to be more like 180,000. And for those who follow such things, this was a big miss – again.

This report was chock full of fun facts to know and tell. Here are some of the highlights you may have missed:

  • The December-January total was the weakest two-month gain in three years

  • The November nonfarm payrolls total, which was already gangbusters, was revised higher again, this time by 33,000 to 274,000.

  • The unemployment rate, edged down again to 6.584%, which is the lowest level since 2008.

  • The labor participation rate, which has become a widely followed statistic these days, moved higher to 63.0 percent from 62.8 percent

  • Last month’s 62.8 percent participation rate was the lowest since 1978 (hence all the attention)

  • Private nonfarm payrolls rose by 142,000, also below consensus

  • Household employment soared by 616,000

  • The number of unemployed fell by 117,000

  • The employment-to-population ratio rose 0.2 points to 58.8 percent, which is tied for the highest level since August 2009

  • The broad measure of the unemployment rate fell to 12.7 percent from 13.1 percent, which is the lowest level since November 2008

  • The number of people working part-time (for economic reasons) fell by 514,000, the most in four years.

  • The part-time unemployment rate dove to 5.1 percent from 5.9 percent.

  • The goods-producing sector added 76,000 jobs, the most since January 2006

  • Construction jobs increased by 48,000, the biggest gain since March 2007

  • New manufacturing jobs improved by 21,000

If, after perusing the above list, you came away with the warm-fuzzies about the jobs market, give yourself a gold star. In short, after the humans got done reading the details in the report, particularly the data from the Household Survey, the computers were told to go the other way. As such, the “big miss” on the headline jobs number quickly turned into a “big plus” as the algos began to push stocks higher within minutes. And after a brief dip in the first hour, the algos didn’t stop buying until the closing bell rang.

Blame It On The Weather

The key here is that analysts were quick to blame the poor nonfarm payroll totals on the wicked winter weather and to focus on the positives found in the report.

While it is true that the two-month gain in payrolls was the weakest since January 2011, it is important to note that the early 2011 numbers were also impacted by severe winter weather. In a research note, Ned Davis Research explained that in 2011, the rebound from the weather-induced punk data was strong as private payrolls rose an average 211,000 per month for the rest of the year.

NDR says the economic fundamentals currently remain sound and that they expect private payrolls to rebound similarly to the 2011 situation. In their estimation, new job growth is likely to return to the norm in the coming months (the 12-month average increase in nonfarm payrolls has been 190,000). Interesting.

The Worry is Gone

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Friday is that the fear that had gripped the market (or more accurately, caused the algos to sell relentlessly) since 2014 began appears to be waning.

Sure, the 3.3 percent bounce seen in the S&P 500 (NYSE: SPY) over the past four sessions could be considered a bounce of the dead-cat variety. And yes, there is important resistance overhead at 1810, 1820, and 1850 on the S&P chart, which could cause the bulls to curb their enthusiasm in the near-term.

However, the market did not go down on what could have easily been considered bad news. Instead, traders and their computer algos produced back-to-back gains of 1 percent for the first time since 1/2/2013. As such, it appears that the bulls now have possession of the ball and that we’ve got ourselves a ballgame again.

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