Why the Dow Is Laughing Off the Worst Jobs Report You’ve Ever Seen

Posted in: Market News
May 8, 2020 12:44 PM UTC

The Dow Jones is laughing off the worst jobs report you've ever seen. That might strike you as bizarre, but here's why it's entirely rational.

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is racing toward a second straight day of solid gains.
  • The stock market rally came despite “the worst macroeconomic data report in U.S. history.”
  • Here’s why Wall Street shrugged off a historic monthly spike in job losses.

An hour before Friday’s opening bell, stock market bulls watched the worst U.S. jobs data since the Great Depression flash across their screens, and they didn’t so much as blink. In fact, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) sprang toward a gain of more than 300 points to close the week.

According to the Labor Department, U.S. unemployment crashed by 20.5 million jobs in April, causing the unemployment rate to swell to 14.7%.

U.S. unemployment entered the year at five-decade lows. Now it stands at its worst mark since the Great Depression. | Source: Labor Department

It only took Credit Suisse Chief Economist James Sweeney one sentence to explicate what this says about the U.S. economy:

This might be the worst macroeconomic data report in U.S. history.

And yet the stock market reacted with nothing more than a half-hearted shrug.

That’s not going to do much for the reputation of the “most-hated Dow Jones rally ever,” but with all due respect to the perma-bears, it’s entirely rational behavior.

We’ll dig into the reasons why in a moment, but first, here’s how the stock market is moving ahead of the opening bell.

Dow Springs Higher as U.S. Labor Market Incurs Record Job Losses

The Dow knew this jobs report was coming. That’s why it didn’t hesitate to rally when it arrived. | Source: Yahoo Finance

Dow Jones Industrial Average futures had pointed to strong gains throughout the overnight session, and the index opened to a triple-digit rally when the markets opened.

By 10:02 am ET, the Dow had jumped 342.71 points or 1.44% to 24,218.60.

That outperformed the S&P 500 and Nasdaq, which rose 1.18% and 0.89%, respectively.

Treasury bond yields reversed earlier losses as the stock market accelerated its risk-on move. At last check, the yield on the 10-year benchmark was 0.666%.

Gold held firm above $1,720 after the jobs report release. Bitcoin – which poked past $10,000 on Thursday thanks to a surprise boost from hedge funder Paul Tudor Jones – edged about 1% lower to $9,890.

Why the Dow Shrugged Off the ‘Worst Macroeconomic Data Report in U.S. History’

So why is the Dow moving higher in the face of the biggest-ever monthly unemployment spike? Because the stock market is a discounting mechanism.

This means that it constantly evaluates – or discounts – all available information at its disposal about past, present, and potential future events.

As portfolio manager David Bahnsen wrote on Thursday evening ahead of the jobs report release:

It will be awful, and tragic, and will leave a percentage unemployment number higher than anything we have seen perhaps since the Depression. The jobs number tomorrow will not tell us anything we do not know right now: (a) Way, way too many people are currently out of work (the jobs data will reinforce that); (b) We do not know how quickly the economy will re-open and re-hiring can commence (the jobs data tomorrow will not tell us that, either).

In other words, there are two crucial reasons Wall Street shrugged off this jobs report.

First, it didn’t surprise anyone. Investors knew this was coming. They knew it was coming yesterday, when jobless claims exceeded estimates (again) and yet the Dow rose 211.25 points anyway.

They knew it was coming a month ago, when the March report brought an abrupt end to 113 straight months of labor market growth. And they knew it was coming weeks earlier, when the U.S. economy first started going on lockdown.

Second, today’s jobs report didn’t give investors any new information. The stock market has already priced in employment losses.

What it’s struggling to discount now is when the economy will reopen, when unemployed workers will reenter the job force, and what the labor market will look like when the dust settles.

Job Listing Data Exposes Labor Market Headwinds

New job postings fell around 50% between February 1 and May 1. | Source: Pantheon Macroeconomics via WSJ

That’s why, as ugly as the jobs report looks, this chart might be even more frightening. It shows that new postings fell approximately 50% between February 1 and May 1 on job listing search engine Indeed.

The employment report is a lagging indicator of what’s happening in the labor market. This is a leading one.

This article was edited by Sam Bourgi.

Last modified: May 8, 2020 2:04 PM UTC

Josiah Wilmoth @Y3llowb1ackbird

Josiah is the US Editor at CCN.com, where he focuses on financial markets. He has written over 2,000 articles since joining CCN.com in 2014. His work has also been featured on ZeroHedge, Yahoo Finance, and Investing.com. He lives in rural Virginia. Connect with him on LinkedIn or email him directly at josiah.wilmoth(at)ccn.com.

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