The latest Weekly Initial Jobless Claims Report was not the big one I've been warning is coming, the one that will shake up stocks some God forsaken Thursday morning. Rather, the latest report offered an image of improvement for the lovely labor market and helped to lift the iShares S&P 1500 Index (NYSE: ISI) this morning. It did so by a fraction, as suspicious followers of mine continue to wait for the big data disaster that will strike some catastrophic future Thursday morning.
The government data minders who produce this report previously indicated this week's data would be clear of the misaligned adjustment for the factory shutdowns at Ford (NYSE: F), General Motors (NYSE: GM) and others in July. Those mischievous manufacturers messed with tradition this year, and left the feds looking like fools still singing after the music stopped. Still, I do not think the noise is out of the figure yet. Whether it is or not probably will not matter before long, as manufacturing data from across the nation has indicated managers are killing hiring plans and reconsidering their worker counts. Considering the latest trend in consumer spending, the same should be happening at service providers. Employment is still a lagging economic indicator you know.
Anyway, this week's report covering the period ending August 4, a period in which hardly anyone is around the office anyway (human resources included), produced a 6,000 person decrease in new unemployment filings. The count fell to 361K, down from the prior week's revised count of 367K. By the way, the revision was higher, from 365K at initial report.
The consensus of economists' views pegged the weekly count at 367K, but this figure is not so important due to the frequency of the data point. Economists have bigger fish to fry than to risk their reputation on a number that is not likely to vary much week-to-week. That's why you find the estimates usually sit quite close to the prior week's result.
What's important, as everyone will tell you, is the moving average. It best depicts the real trend. That's true, but it's still old news for a lagging economic indicator, so it's basically useless anyway. Still, it would be amiss of me to leave it out of this report. Therefore, I note that the four-week moving average increased by 2,250, to 368,250, in the reported period. It's not much of a change, but it excludes one of the erroneous data points of July. You would expect the misfortune to average out to even over time, and it should, so we will be unable to blame it for much longer. There's always the weather though. In this case, unfortunately, there is also the determined path of the global economy.
Insured unemployment was unchanged in the lagged week ending July 28, sitting at 2.6%. Still, the number of people that this represented included an increase of 53K, taking the count to 3.332 million insured under the unemployment benefits program. The number people receiving benefits under all programs, including the extension benefits program, fell by 214,367, to 5.75 million in the period ending July 21. Before you start questioning my wisdom, remember that there are two ways off benefits, getting a job or passing 99 weeks of joblessness. Considering the unemployment rate increased in July to 8.3% (or 8.2500000000001% as the administration painted it), the latter seems more likely to me.
In any event, the shares of employment services firms tend to react to labor data, as you might expect. On this day then, the shares of most are higher, save Kelly Services (NASDAQ: KELYA), which seems to be the group's counter-play for those who must have an interest to keep their portfolios best matched to the index they're benchmarking. It's because of Kelly's focus on temporary workers, which may benefit from an uncertain environment.
Company & Ticker
Thursday Morning Performance
Robert Half (NYSE: RHI)
Korn Ferry (NYSE: KFY)
Manpower (NYSE: MAN)
Monster Worldwide (NYSE: MWW)
The nation's largest employers also matter in this regard, as they'll be the guys firing the most Americans in terms of pure numbers when the souvlaki hits the fan. That means Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT), IBM (NYSE: IBM), McDonald's (NYSE: MCD), Target (NYSE: TG) and Kroger (NYSE: KR). Well, maybe not then, considering most of these companies sell discounted goods or necessities, so it'll be more mom and pop shops shuttering up for a new job behind the counter at one of these fine American establishments.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.