The latest Weekly Jobless Claims were reported today for the week ending May 5, 2012, and I think it's a shame that the popular media is pushing the irrelevant improvement. It's certainly dangerous to the naive investor and the market short-term. The data showed a decrease of 1,000 to 367K in the latest period. Though, smart money should hang on European and Chinese issues, not to mention the just reported monthly Employment Situation Report, which still offers its bad after taste to the labor outlook. The SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average (NYSEARCA:DIA) was up 0.5% and the SPDR S&P 500 (NYSEARCA:SPY) was up about the same on the news and on a supportive International Trade Report, but the PowerShares QQQ (NASDAQ:QQQ) was off fractionally thanks to disappointing Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) news.
Weekly Jobless Claims improved, yes, but only slightly and against a revised higher prior week figure. In reality, the miniscule difference is irrelevant. Especially when considering that the last two monthly Employment Situation Reports have reflected disappointing net job creation.
This week's data showed a 5,250 improvement in the four-week moving average, which gained to 379,000. What is missed in this broad sketch are the changes of the weekly count over the last eight weeks or so. It has improved generally, but on swings lower and then higher again. Also, in a recent article, I note the importance of remembering that this data point, while current, is also a lagging indicator. We must look forward to find what matters to the stock market, which will look even beyond the current situation.
Insured unemployment improved to 2.5%, but remember that with regard to this data point, we're looking back, in this case not far to the week ending April 28. It's also important to note that the significance of today's long-term unemployment is missed by this data count, as many of those poor souls are simply falling out of the program on expiration of time.
Looking back even further to the week ending April 21, we find that Americans receiving benefits of some sort, including through the benefits extensions program, improved by 174,529, to 6.4 million. Again, with this program, we're also losing those Americans who have been unemployed for longer than the 99 weeks covered by the extensions program. This is partly why the unemployment rate of 8.1% is understated.
Yet the shares of employment services firms are all higher today on the news. At the hour of scribbling here Robert Half (NYSE:RHI) was up 0.7%, Korn Ferry International (NYSE:KFY) was gaining 0.2%, Manpower (NYSE:MAN) was up 1.4%, Kelly Services (NASDAQ:KELYA) rose sharply and Monster Worldwide (NYSE:MWW) had gained 0.6%.
With regard to the state specific data, I like to share the following. The government reported that the highest insured unemployment rates in the week ending April 21 were in Alaska (5.2), Oregon (3.8), Puerto Rico (3.8), California (3.7), Pennsylvania (3.7), Connecticut (3.6), New Jersey (3.6), Rhode Island (3.6), Massachusetts (3.3) and Wisconsin (3.3).
The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending April 28 were in Indiana (+2,294), Florida (+1,767), Illinois (+1,512), Pennsylvania (+1,121) and New Hampshire (+836), while the largest decreases were in New York (-21,258), California (-6,790), Massachusetts (-2,530), Georgia (-2,110) and Connecticut (-1,708).
In conclusion, there's good reason to temper enthusiasm today with regard to the latest jobless claims "improvement" reported by the popular press. The details and deeper thinking reveal that not much has changed, and it probably does not matter to the market anyway. What does matter is what is developing in Europe, China and what will likely develop here as a result. This is what has me souring on multinational growth ideas like Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), and industrials too, despite the latest trade data.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.