Friday started on a positive note, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) leading the way higher with a 161-point gain to 25,161 as of 11:55 a.m. EST. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) climbed about 10 points to 2,714, while the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) was up 13 points to 7,295.
Earnings season continued to generate dozens of quarterly reports from important companies, including the highest-profile business in the e-commerce world. Yet from a big-picture perspective, the more important news this morning came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which reported its monthly jobs numbers and confirmed that the U.S. economy remains on track for solid gains for the foreseeable future.
More jobs, stronger economy
Most people looking at the monthly jobs report concentrate on two stats: the number of new jobs created outside of the farming sector, and the official unemployment rate. January was an unexpectedly strong month in terms of job creation, with total gains amounting to 304,000. That was well ahead of the average monthly gain throughout 2018 of about 223,000, and it marked the strongest monthly gain since February 2018. By contrast, most economists had expected that the number would come in closer to 165,000 to 170,000, predicting at least some deterrent effect from the government shutdown.
Instead, where the shutdown's impact was clearly felt was in the unemployment number. The official unemployment rate rose to 4%, marking the second straight rise in the figure after hitting a low of 3.7% in late 2018. Out of 6.5 million unemployed workers, 175,000 of them reported being on temporary layoff, which would have included many furloughed federal employees.
Most market participants saw the news as a generally positive reading on the economy as a whole. But by looking more closely at exactly what jobs the economy is creating, you can get a better sense of which parts of the economy are doing well -- and which stocks might benefit the most.
Where the jobs are
One of the most promising signs from the employment report was a big pickup in the construction industry: 52,000 construction jobs got created in January, which was the third-highest number among specific occupations called out by the report. Only the leisure and hospitality sector (74,000 jobs) and the education and health services industry (55,000) had stronger job creation.
The strength in construction points to continued capital investment from U.S. businesses. That's good news, especially given more dire predictions from some economists that higher interest rates would eat into the willingness among companies to spend money on capital projects. It bodes well for stocks of companies that provide construction equipment as well as the materials that go into buildings and other projects.
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Meanwhile, you can see a less positive trend from the information industry. Jobs in the media, telecom, and Internet content industries have been on the decline for several months in a row, including a 4,000-job drop in January. That's consistent with the tough times that newspapers and other print media outlets have faced in recent years, and as more information services move to online sources, the number of employees required has been on the wane. That's not necessarily bad news for all media stocks, but it emphasizes the need for companies in the industry to have a digital strategy that will actually work.
Economic reports contain a wealth of information, but you have to be willing to dig into them to get their full value. If you do, you can unearth valuable gems that will help give you investing insight to pick the stocks most likely to make gains over time.