When the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced that February 2015 employment had increased by 295,000 jobs and unemployment had dropped down to 5.5%, predictable hoopla and cheering from the political class followed.
Then the Dow dropped, with some fearing the Fed might actually start raising rates as a result of the news.
At one of the more historically liberal media outlets, CNBC’s Kenny Polcari ripped into the BLS:
Never mind that soft retail sales are causing retailers to “manage costs” (read, “layoffs”), and lower oil prices are causing layoffs across the board in many of the energy names. Never mind that the labor-force participation rate is now back at its lows.
Forget the fact that the exceptionally cold weather and abnormal number of winter storms experienced during the month of February had all of these analysts calling for a surprise to the downside—which would have been much more logical. This surge? Not so much. So you can imagine the surprise by investors and traders when the government reported such a strong headline number. What happened to the snow—or is this in fact a real “snow job”?
In the end, this report—like all the others—will be evaluated through the rose-colored glasses of the Federal Reserve.
Will Ms. Yellen act on the pretty picture she sees through those rose-colored glasses, or deal with reality? I suspect we all know the answer. The more important question is:
What are you doing?
Trying to time the market or guess if, how, and when the Federal Reserve will change its policy based on suspicious numbers from the BLS is a recipe for money troubles.
Here are some things individual investors can do:
- Run a worst-case analysis. If the market drops 30%, how much are you likely to lose? If you can’t tolerate that loss—either financially or emotionally—then make the necessary adjustments.
- Don’t overreact. One friend liquidated and converted to cash when the market climbed for 1,000 days without a correction. His justification: we’re due for a crash. Maybe so, but now he’s kicking himself for overreacting.
- Take profits in some of your positions, and rebalance. Make sure no one holding is dominating your portfolio.
- Keep your stop losses current.
Who knows? Maybe the Fed and BLS can keep playing this game for a long time to come.