Employment Situation: Why Do Investors Care

The employment situation is a set of labor market indicators. The unemployment rate measures the number of unemployed as a percentage of the labor force. Nonfarm payroll employment counts the number of paid employees working part-time or full-time in the nation’s business and government establishments. The average workweek reflects the number of hours worked in the nonfarm sector. Average hourly earnings reveal the basic hourly rate for major industries as indicated in nonfarm payrolls. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor)

Why Do Investors Care?
If ever there was an economic report that can move the markets, this is it! The anticipation on Wall Street each month is palpable, the reactions are dramatic, and the information for investors is invaluable. By digging just a little deeper than the headline unemployment rate, investors can take more strategic control of their portfolio and even take advantage of unique investment opportunities that often arise in the days surrounding this report.

The employment data give the most comprehensive report on how many people are looking for jobs, how many have them, what they’re getting paid and how many hours they are working. These numbers are the best way to gauge the current state as well as the future direction of the economy. Nonfarm payrolls are categorized by sectors. This sector data can go a long way in helping investors determine in which economic sectors they intend to invest.

The employment statistics also provide insight on wage trends, and wage inflation is high on the list of enemies for the Federal Reserve. Fed officials constantly monitor this data watching for even the smallest signs of potential inflationary pressures, even when economic conditions are soggy. If inflation is under control, it is easier for the Fed to maintain a more accommodative monetary policy. If inflation is a problem, the Fed is limited in providing economic stimulus.

By tracking the jobs data, investors can sense the degree of tightness in the job market. If wage inflation threatens, it’s a good bet that interest rates will rise; bond and stock prices will fall. No doubt that the only investors in a good mood will be the ones who watched the employment report and adjusted their portfolios to anticipate these events. In contrast, when job growth is slow or negative, then interest rates are likely to decline – boosting up bond and stock prices in the process.

Current Employment Situation
Workers’ pink slips stacked ever higher in March as jittery employers slashed 80,000 jobs, the most in five years, and the national unemployment rate climbed to 5.1 percent. Job losses are nearing the staggering level of a quarter-million this year in just three months.

For the third month in a row total U.S. employment rolls shrank often a telltale sign that the economy has jolted dangerously into reverse. At the same time, the jobless rate rose three-tenths of a percentage point, a sharp increase usually associated with times of deep economic stress.

Job losses were widespread last month, hitting workers at factories, construction companies, retailers, banks, real-estate firms and even temporary-help agencies. Also mortgage brokers, hotels, computer design shops, accounting firms, architecture and engineering companies, legal services, airlines and other transportation as well as telecommunications companies. Those cuts swamped employment gains elsewhere, including at hospitals and other heath-care sites, educational services, child day-care providers, bars and restaurants, insurance companies, museums, zoos and parks. And the government, which is almost always up. In fact, private employers have shed jobs for four straight months, though December showed an overall gain for the economy because the government increase outweighed the private loss.

March’s losses were the most since the same month in 2003, when companies were still struggling to recover from the last recession. The economy now has lost 232,000 jobs in the first three months of this year. The new employment figures were much weaker than economists were expecting. They were anticipating a drop of 50,000 payroll jobs.

Workers with jobs saw modest wage gains. Average hourly earnings for jobholders rose to $17.86 in March and are up 3.6 percent over the past 12 months. With lofty energy and food prices, workers may feel like their paychecks are shrinking. If the job market continues to falter, wage growth probably will slow, too, making consumers even less inclined to spend, which would further hurt the economy.

(Source: Bloomberg, Yahoo Finance)

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