The Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI ) fell a whopping 1% today after Friday's disappointing jobs report. The Nasdaq and S&P 500 are down by similar amounts.
Last week, we found out that the unemployment rate fell to 8.2% after the economy added 120,000 jobs in March. That may sound like a lot, but it's actually the lowest number since October and barely enough to keep up with population growth. In fact, the labor force participation rate dipped 0.1% to 63.8%.
The stock market had been on a roll after months of strong reports, but Friday's report has caused some to revisit their economic crystal balls.
Bears will point to the idea that unusually warm weather may have given the economy a boost in recent months and that the economy is now stalling. Either that, or given the stock rally, high gas prices on account of tensions with Iran, and the deepening European recession, the downside risks to stocks outweigh their upside potential in the near term.
Economically sensitive stocks like Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) and Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) got the worst of it, plunging to the tune of 3.3% and 2%, respectively. Even Disney (NYSE: DIS ) and United Technologies (NYSE: UTX ) -- which are only about half as volatile as the other two seesaws -- got hammered today in general market mayhem.
But it's still too early to say our gradual recovery is stalling. This was, after all, just one month's worth of data. The numbers could end up being revised upwards, or it could have been a one-month blip. And the news wasn't all bad -- the underemployment rate, which includes workers who can only find part-time positions, has been declining, indicating that demand is increasing and companies are finally beginning to fill full-time positions.
What's more, layoffs of government workers may finally be starting to slow down. Over the past few years, 700,000 government workers have lost their jobs -- about 2.5% of all public-sector workers. Belt-tightening at the federal, state, and local levels is one of the reasons why this downturn has been so severe. At the point we're at now (30 months) after the 1981, 1990, and 2001 recessions, public-sector employment grew 1% to 3%, whereas it's fallen 2.5% since the end of ours.
Finally, for long-term investors looking for bargains, a stock market sell-off isn't all bad news. Corporate earnings could continue to soar in spite of the economy, as they have done for the past few years. That could mean continued stock gains for investors.
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