The employment situation is a set of labour market indicators. The unemployment rate measures the number of unemployed as a percentage of the labour force. Nonfarm payroll employment counts the number of paid employees working part-time or full-time in the nation's business and government establishments. The average workweek reflects the number of hours worked in the non farm sector. Average hourly earnings reveal the basic hourly rate for major industries as indicated in non farm payrolls.
The Employment Situation is the primary monthly indicator of aggregate economic activity because it encompasses every major sector of the economy. It is comprehensive and available early in the month. Many other economic indicators are dependent upon its information. It not only reveals information about the labour market, but about income and production as well. In short, it provides clues about other economic indicators reported for the month and plays a big role in influencing financial market psychology during the month.
Why do Investors Care?
If ever there was an economic report that can move the markets, this is it! The anticipation on Wall Street each month is palpable, the reactions are dramatic, and the information for investors is invaluable. By digging just a little deeper than the headline unemployment rate, investors can take more strategic control of their portfolio and even take advantage of unique investment opportunities that often arise in the days surrounding this report.
The employment data give the most comprehensive report on how many people are looking for jobs, how many have them, what they're getting paid and how many hours they are working. These numbers are the best way to gauge the current state as well as the future direction of the economy.
The employment statistics also provide insight on wage trends, and wage inflation is high on the list of enemies for the Federal Reserve. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke talks about this data frequently and watches for inflation constantly, even when economic conditions are soggy. If inflation is under control, it is easier for the Fed to maintain a more accommodative monetary policy. If inflation is a problem, the Fed is limited in providing economic stimulus.
By tracking the jobs data, investors can sense the degree of tightness in the job market. If wage inflation threatens, it's a good bet that interest rates will rise; bond and stock prices will fall. No doubt that the only investors in a good mood will be the ones who watched the employment report and adjusted their portfolios to anticipate these events. In contrast, when job growth is slow or negative, then interest rates are likely to decline - boosting up bond and stock prices in the process.
The bond market will rally (fall) when the employment situation shows weakness (strength). The equity market often rallies with the bond market on weak data because low interest rates are good for stocks. But sometimes the two markets move in opposite directions. After all, a healthy labour market should be favourable for the stock market because it supports economic growth and corporate profits. At the same time, bond traders are more concerned about the potential for inflationary pressures.
The unemployment rate rises during cyclical downturns and falls during periods of rapid economic growth. A rising unemployment rate is associated with a weak or contracting economy and declining interest rates. Conversely, a decreasing unemployment rate is associated with an expanding economy and potentially rising interest rates. The fear is that wages will accelerate if the unemployment rate becomes too low and workers are hard to find.
Bureau of Labour Statistics, U.S. Department of Labour
Usually the first Friday day of the month.
Data are for the previous month.
Monthly, data for the two prior months are revised to incorporate more complete information. The revisions affect five years of data. The magnitude of revisions is usually moderate, but sometimes substantial.