Stocks opened modestly lower this morning, with the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) and the narrower, price-weighted Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) down 0.1% and 0.25%, respectively, as of 10:05 a.m. EST.
This week's calendar: Focus on jobs
The Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, and the European Central Bank will all announce monetary-policy decisions on Thursday. The most probable outcome will be no change in policy at any of the three institutions, though the BoE is most likely to make adjustments, according to the Financial Times. Therefore investors will be more focused on Friday's release of U.S. employment data for February.
The monthly Employment Situation Summary is always closely watched, but the report has taken on even more importance since December, when the Fed explicitly tied its policy rate and its bond-buying program to employment. In particular, the Fed said it would keep the federal funds rate at zero "at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5 percent, inflation over the period between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than half a percentage point above the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored."
At present, that rule still gives the Fed a lot of tarmac for its zero-bound regime: The consensus forecast calls for 157,000 new jobs added in February, with the unemployment remaining unchanged at 7.9%.
Buffett still sees value
While employment data may trigger a zig or a zag in stock prices, individual investors would do well to focus on long-term value. Following the release of Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE:BRK-B) annual letter to shareholders last Friday -- see "Warren Buffett on Risk, Optimism, and Ketchup" -- CEO Buffett appeared on CNBC this morning with an upbeat take for business-focused investors:
Anything I bought at $80 I don't like as well at $100. But if you're asking me if stocks are cheaper than other forms of investment, in my view the answer is yes. We're buying stocks now -- but not because we expect them to go up. We're buying them because we think we're getting good value for them.
Buffett did, however, warn that the Fed's eventual exit from its monetary experiments could upend markets, saying, "There are an awful lot of people who want to get out of a lot of assets if they think the Fed is going to tighten a lot." Still, Berkshire proves this needn't concern patient capital. "In terms of whether to buy Oriental Trading today or pass, whether to buy Heinz today or see, we do not get into macroeconomic discussions at all," said Buffett, adding that price "takes care of the future."
Words to the wise.