An employment report released this past Friday showed non-farm payrolls dropped by an unexpected 308,000 in February.

St. Louis Federal Reserve president William Poole said, "The employment report on Friday was obviously a disappointment," and it "clearly points in the direction of the economy not recovering on the track that we all hoped and expected was going to take place."

Really? The more comments I see like these, the more surprised I get these folks are surprised. Does anyone at your water cooler think we've been experiencing robust economic growth? Not likely, in part because there are fewer people at the water cooler to talk to these days.

Some might say water cooler numbers aren't statistically significant, but what's a person to do when members of their economic health survey pool keep getting laid off?

No, the folks I speak with aren't expecting an economic surge in the coming months, what with war looming and layoffs continuing. And they certainly didn't think we were in the middle of an economic surge in February.

That said, we're not fretting about it either. We do expect the economy to improve at some point; we're just trying to save a few dollars in the meantime. So, considering consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, what would one expect the whole saving concept to do to retail sales numbers?

Right. Today, U.S. retailers set the stage for another month of puny sales, pointing to the late Easter holiday and very uncooperative weather for what's shaping up to be a weak March.

Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) is expecting March sales to increase in the 3% range vs. a 9.5% increase in the same period last year. And expectations for the overall retail sector are for less than 1% gains this month compared to a 6.4% gain in March '02.

Now, I'm no economist, but all this seems pretty straightforward to me. Weak economy equals weak retail sales, right? But Mr. Poole broke out talk of Fed action based on the sour employment news, stating, "the Fed would have to stay open for the possibility it may need to act."

Act? Are we talking about a rate decrease here? Youbetcha. "The Federal Reserve has to be open to both interest rate increases and interest rate decreases as the evidence arrives," Poole said. "I don't want to say an interest rate decrease is out of the question nor do I want to try to signal that that's probable."

Hmmm, so I guess what he's saying is that if the economy improves, rates will likely rise, and if the economy falters, rates could fall. That's powerful stuff. It must be tough to walk around with a constant expression of shock on one's face. You know, Mr. Poole, I've heard animated facial expressions can sometimes cause wrinkles. But then again, sometimes they don't.