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MIXED DATA CONFUSES INVESTORS - By WSS Research Desk

By Carlos Guillen

Stocks for the most part are trading in losing territory during today's trading session, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average once again losing for a second consecutive session as rather favorable employment data was offset by worse than expected Small-business sentiment.

On the employment front, taking a look at the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, or JOLTS report, we can see that the level of jobs available during January ticked higher after declining in December. The number of job openings in January was 3.97 million, up from 3.91 million in the prior month, representing a 1.53 percent increase. The so-called Jolts survey is one of the pieces of labor market data that Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen has said she pays attention to. At the moment the number of job openings still remain well below the 4.26 million openings when the recession began in December 2007; however, the long term view is still favorable with the number of job openings increasing 67.3 percent since the end of the recession in June 2009.

Left rather flat was the number of unemployed per jobs available remaining at 2.6 for a third consecutive month. While there have been reductions in this metric, they have been small, showing very little indication of significant improvements in the short term. So while there are fewer layoffs, there is also less hiring going on, and for those that currently have jobs, they are still very unlikely to quit in search for something else.

Small-business sentiment slumped in February by more than expected on concerns over sales, the economy, and employment driving the downturn. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, its small-business index dropped 2.7 points to 91.4. Six components fell, one rose, and three were steady. The worst component was earnings trends, with a net negative 27 percent reading, while the best was plans to make capital outlays, with a net positive 25 percent reading. Overall, however, the index still has not been able to reach the 100 mark since 2006: more on this below.

In all, today's market action has been very volatile as the economic data points have been confusing investors. The Dow is attempting to bounce off the low of the day but it is having difficulty, perhaps demonstrating investors' confusion to get into stocks on the mixed data presented today.

Small Business Optimism Fades
By David Urani

The February NFIB small business optimism index disappointed, falling to a reading of 91.4 from 94.1 month to month to its lowest level since last February. The index had been looking better of late, flirting with multi-year highs as a jump in hiring plans in January helped. However, in February those plans for hiring made a quick reversal, down from an index reading of 12 to 7. And those reduced hiring plans come from a less optimistic view of the future, as outlooks fell from -11 to -19. In fact, more firms expect deterioration in the economy than gains.

Once again, the top two problems facing small businesses were reported as being government interference, followed by taxes. And interestingly, even though hiring plans became muted again only 5% of respondents cited labor costs as being their biggest problem. That makes for 40% of respondents citing the government as the worst problem, and with figures like that you'd have to say that the recovery in small businesses could (and should) be much better if it weren't for Uncle Sam's counter-productive policies that simply make it more difficult for the average business owner to operate.