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Weak Job Creation Not A Surprise To Markets

We are all familiar with the common expression, markets do not like surprises. As it relates to the current state of the labor markets, the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance came in at 457,000 last week, which has again brought out comments from the media like "a figure that signals the labor market will be slow to improve even as the economy grows". Is slow employment growth a surprise to anyone? Expectations from almost all quarters call for slow improvement in the labor markets and persistently high unemployment. In fact, John C. Williams of the San Francisco Fed said yesterday:

Indeed, given the outlook for only modest growth through the end of the year, I expect unemployment to end 2010 at about its current level of 9½ percent. Once growth picks up to a more robust pace, the unemployment rate should gradually decline, but only to about 8½ percent by the end of next year. I expect it will take several years before it returns to more normal levels.

Not to discount the importance of job creation and the real hardships endured by thousands of American families, but financial markets have performed well in prior cycles despite "jobless recoveries". In the last recovery (early 2000's), job creation did not return for almost two years after the economy bottomed. However, asset markets performed quite well from October of 2002 to October of 2007, with the S&P 500 gaining 105% from the bear market lows to the bull market highs.

In the early 1990s, job creation was tepid as we emerged from a recession in March of 1991. From March of 1991 through year-end 1993, the S&P 500 gained 26% during a "jobless recovery". It is true markets do not like surprises, but weak job creation is a surprise to no one. In a similar vein, we noted recently in "Falling Consumer Confidence: Not a Death Knell for Stocks", it is important that we try to differentiate between economic concerns and economic concerns that historically have derailed bull markets.

Creating satisfying and rewarding jobs is extremely important to the happiness and well-being of Americans, but persistently high unemployment does not necessarily spell doom for the financial markets. Fortunately, rising asset prices can assist in rebuilding balance sheets at all levels of the global economy. Healthier balance sheets at the household, corporate, and government level can eventually lead to higher levels of confidence and job creation.

Concerns about the economy, markets, and job creation are all warranted, and the big picture needs to be monitored closely. However, it is important we understand how past economic concerns have impacted asset prices. Additional comments can be found in Short Takes.

 

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