The January jobs report is never good news
The Labor Department will announce the January employment figures Thursday, and a big increase in jobs is the worst thing that could happen to Wall Street.
But here’s the funny part: Any gain in January’s job market will be incredibly deceiving.
First, there can never be a real gain in jobs during January. That’s because many employers gear up workforces for the December holiday season and lay people off in January.
You already know that. It is only after seasonal adjustments that the government’s numbers show any gains.
Here are some examples. In January 2017, the US announced that the economy had an increase of 227,000 jobs. That was a strong performance. But it was strong only after the actual, raw figures were seasonally adjusted.
What was the real number? Before seasonal adjustments, the real economy actually lost 2.89 million real jobs that month.
But the Labor Department doesn’t like the sharp ups and downs in job gains and losses that the real world produces. So it smooths things out — adding some jobs in January and subtracting some jobs in other months.
The number of jobs added and subtracted changes every year.
In January 2016, the Labor Department announced a modest gain of 151,000. But the real, unadjusted raw number was a loss of nearly 3 million jobs.
In January 2015, the US announced an impressive gain of 257,000 jobs — but the actual, unadjusted number was a loss of 2.8 million jobs.
And so on and so on.
The “experts” are expecting that a gain of 175,000 jobs will be announced on Friday, compared with a modest improvement of only 148,000 jobs in December. But, again, beneath the surface, the real January number will be a loss of 2 million to 3 million jobs.
Think about it. Amazon hired 120,000 seasonal workers, UPS hired 95,000 seasonal workers, Target said its seasonal workforce was 100,000 and, at Macy’s, the number was 80,000.
That’s 395,000 temp workers out of jobs in January — from just four companies. In other words, Friday’s number is a crapshoot. And it is deceptive.
And given that Wall Street is already worried the economy is getting too strong (as preposterous as that notion is), if the crapshoot ends with a too-strong number, the stock market will get more nervous.
The Fed on Wednesday kept interest rates steady. But a strong job figure could start Wall Street worrying that there will be more rate hikes this year from the Fed than expected.
As I’ve said (and former Fed chief Alan Greenspan said on Wednesday), the stock market is in a bubble that can’t last. And more people probably came to that realization when the market suffered big declines this past Monday and Tuesday.
The bubble is the main reason for the market’s recent troubles.
The more immediate cause of Wall Street’s selloff is that the bond market bubble has been pricked. By that I mean that bond prices are falling, which automatically causes interest rates to rise.
And when rates get high enough, investors will move their money out of the stock market and into bonds. Wall Street doesn’t like that.
That’s why a strong jobs figure (after seasonal adjustments) is the worst thing for Wall Street right now.