Forget Apple's (AAPL) release of the new iPad, to trading wonks this morning's release of the Employment Situation Summary was by far THE event of the week. Sadly for those who crave the dramatic, both announcements were much ado about nothing too important.
Specifically, the economy added 227,000 non-farm payroll jobs, a number within spitting distance of expectations. Unemployment came in at 8.3%. Widely viewed revisions were also positive, adding 20k and 41k jobs to the original figures for December and January, respectively.
Jerry Webman, chief economist at OppenheimerFunds, sees the run of solid employment data as evidence that "the market has been smarter than rest of us." For all the haters of the rally and doomsday-types waiting for the world to end, well, it hasn't. As he sees it, when more people work, more stuff gets made and earnings grow. In other words, boring 5% stock market gains pretty much make sense.
Time to get giddy? Let's not kid ourselves. Today's data is evidence to Webman that the "very tepid, not very exciting, deleveraging, depressed recovery and expansion is on track, just like the markets have told us." There's a reason economics is called "The Dismal Science;" once you plug data into a model news ceases to be "Good" or "Bad." It's just news.
What is a little happier to Webman is the increase in the participation ratio. In English that's increases in jobs as measured against those actually looking for work. If we're gaining jobs as the unemployment rate remains static, as was the case in February, it means more people are looking for work. Looking for a job bespeaks a certain level of optimism, even if the hunter doesn't find work right away.
Like all economists, Webman can tick through ratios and models and projections like a madman. But he is a human being and a genial one at that. His bottom line is the same of most of us: The numbers are only a way to measure progress but they mask the more human issue. Webman has only one stat about which he really cares: "I want to see more paychecks printed every 2 weeks."
Simple, clean and to the point. Now if we can just get the jobs market to listen.
Be sure to take part in Yahoo's Fantasy Finance contest. Run an imaginary $100,000 portfolio for 12-weeks and see how your returns stack up against others. Come out on top at the end of the game and you'll win $50,000 in real money!