Reading Between The Numbers

No one was happier than me on Friday to hear the news of 308,000 new jobs created in the U.S. in March. Just the day before, my PROFIT CONFIDENTIAL commentary noted that the lowering of the U.S. dollar value against world currencies would have two possible effects, depending how fast the dollar dropped.

A gradual decline of the dollar, I noted, would cause Americans to start buying American again, pushing up our domestic employment. However, a rapid fall in our dollar’s value would cause a confidence crisis among foreign U.S. bond buyers, resulting in a U.S. debt crisis.

Friday’s employment numbers (and the recent economic performance of such countries as Canada who suffer with a weak U.S. dollar), gives credence to the Fed that its slow dollar devaluation model is working. Hopefully, the Fed will stay the course.

But if you are wondering why stocks did not deliver a rally on the big employment numbers no one expected, it was because the market read between the lines of the employment figures.

— Hiring in the manufacturing sector remained unchanged in March after almost three years of reporting job losses. So no new jobs here, but the bleeding has stopped.

— 71,000 new jobs were created in the construction industry, 47,000 new jobs in the retail sector. The big question: Are we replacing white collar jobs with blue collar jobs? More specifically, are the thousands of American young adults who finish university with degrees going to see their potential jobs go to India while we replace those jobs with clerks working at Wal-Mart?

— Since employment started to decline in the U.S. in March of 2001, we are still down 1.96 million workers.

— Even though 308,000 jobs were created in March, the official unemployment rate went up to 5.7% from 5.6%.

— After the better-than-expected job numbers were announced, some analysts started to suggest the Fed might raise interest rates one-quarter point before the November election to cool the growth. Economists say that when the U.S. economy is “firing on all cylinders,” it should create 250,000 jobs a month, a number we easily surpassed in March. The bond market surely reacted as though rates were going to rise.

So maybe after some further investigation, and reading between the numbers, the good-news employment figures left a lot open to interpretation. The market is saying “we want to see more.” And we couldn’t agree more.