The government s monthly> jobs report often makes traders shiver on the first Friday of each month, and Friday's release might pack more of a punch than usual as investors learn whether the economy added jobs for the first time in two years. Whichever way the numbers fall, the employment report is sure to move the markets. Can investors at home capitalize on any of this activity?
The short answer: not so much. Individual investors are at a distinct disadvantage, the pros say, when it comes to acting on many regular releases from government and other entities that indicate the strength of the overall economy. For starters, there s the issue of timing. The jobs report is released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern, an hour before the market opens, and traders begin reacting immediately. (Premarket trading occurs between 4:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., and while individual investors aren t barred from participating, the early session brings challenges like lower liquidity and uncertain pricing.) If you re a retail investor, by the time you get your trade in it s all over the guys at Goldman beat you to it, says William Droms, a professor of finance at Georgetown University s McDonough School of Business.
What s more, traders reactions to indicators often evolve during the course of the day, making it tough for individual investors to keep up. The biggest market moves come when the numbers fall outside the range of economists predictions. This month, economists polled by financial data firm Bloomberg predict a range of outcomes from 85,000 jobs gained to 100,000 jobs lost. If Friday s numbers are positive, then the markets could experience a five-minute euphoria, says Doreen Mogavero, president and CEO of Mogavero, Lee & Co., a boutique brokerage firm and a broker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Yet stocks could fall afterward, since a strong jobs outlook might make it more likely for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates earlier than expected, and higher rates generally hurt stocks. Last month s better-than-expected drop of 11,000 jobs sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average soaring as much as 151 points only to close the day up just 23 points.
Those determined to play economic releases might start with the few that come out during regular trading hours, such as the monthly Institute for Supply Management manufacturing numbers, released at 10 a.m. (the next release comes on Feb. 1), or the Federal Open Market Committee announcement, which comes out at 2:15 p.m. on the second day of the Fed s eight annual meetings (the next one is scheduled for Jan. 27), says Jeffrey Kleintop, chief market strategist for LPL Financial. Or, focus on indicators that provide a good snapshot of the economy but generate less market noise. For example, Kleintop likes the Association of American Railroads weekly rail traffic summary and the International Council of Shopping Center s weekly retail chain-store sales numbers: They get very little attention and I think they deserve a lot.