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Is the Drama Gone From Jobs Reports?


"Be careful what you wish for," the old adage goes, "because it just might come true." For months, Ben Bernanke and (most of) the members of the Fed's Open Market Committee have been trying to ease investors from their data dependency, working diligently to sever the link between economic reports and expectations for more easing. Now that they have succeeded, by way of an open-ended stimulus plan known as QE3, the drama and possibility that used to reside within the jobs reports is all dried up.

What I mean is this; investors need to ask themselves what possible outcome from Friday morning's payroll report could make for a tradeable event.

Given that economists, on average, are looking for 130,000 new jobs in September, a higher number on its own won't give investors reason to believe, let alone buy. If it comes in weaker than expected, that could undercut a recent blip in confidence, but presumably any selling would be short-lived given the Fed's clear intent to boost stock prices.

For economist Dan North of Euler Hermes, job creation needs to nearly double from current levels before it gets interesting. "Even 150,000 (jobs) is better than last month, but it's still way short of what we need to have," he says, that 200,000-250,000 is a more appropriate target.

While some have taken comfort in Wednesday's better than expected report from ADP which showed 162,000 private jobs added last month, North is not one of them.

"I don't have a whole lot of confidence in the ADP number," he says, noting that it is supposed to correlate well with the government jobs data longer term, "but month to month there are some big differences, so I kind of discount it."

One area of the report that will at least be fun to watch is the headline unemployment rate, which is forecast to stay put at 8.1% and under close scrutiny for miraculous improvement as election day approaches. Even if it does go down, North say the figure is declining for all the wrong reasons since it isn't the results of more jobs, but rather, fewer job hunters. He points to the participation rate at a 30-year low as truly troubling but much better indicator of the labor market.

So if you agree that the headline numbers have effectively been relegated to second class status, that will put greater attention on some of the secondary numbers for any telltale signs of improvement or weakness. Wage growth, manufacturing and construction industry gains or losses, as well as minority and recent graduate unemployment rates will all get a closer look than usual, as we enter the new normal - a drama-free jobs report.