After jobs, what will traders worry about next?

Closing Bell Exchange: In the eye of the Fed storm
Closing Bell Exchange: In the eye of the Fed storm

The jobs report showed 242,000 jobs were created in February, and the January number was revised higher by 30,000 jobs.

When the news first hit before the opening bell on Friday, the trading algorithms had a knee-jerk that sent futures higher. But that was a fleeting bump that was quickly replaced by a "sell the news" mentality.

The S&P 500 has rallied 10 percent in the past three weeks. Stabilization of oil helped stop the bleeding in energy stocks (as well as the broader market). The prospect of rising interest rates helped financials. And the market had already been preparing for a positive report, given recent economic data.

In the end, though, this one report will not be the single catalyst to cause a broader change in market psychology. It is much less about the jobs report than it is about the broader macro data — both at home and abroad.

Now, while employers added more workers, wages did not increase and average hours worked was less than expected. That put to rest any suggestion that the labor market is tightening.

After some analysis, reality set in and traders decided to take some profits after the fairly strong recent advance.


So, what does this mean for the Federal Reserve?

I don't think it changes much. March is still off the table. June is still on the table — but not likely.

The market had every reason two months ago to go over the edge into the abyss and we did not. Day after day, the market came under more pressure as massive amounts of sovereign wealth money came out of the market, yet the market held up incredibly well — even as the data were suspect.

Why? Because the buzz about negative rates around the globe has investors convinced that the Fed won't raise anytime soon and that even deeper negative rates are on the near term horizon — Think European Central Bank meeting next week.

After the report, former Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser suggested that the next hike, whenever it comes, could be 50 basis points, or half a percentage point. I think the market action is discounting this as well because the Fed has worked hard at trying to be as transparent and as cautious as they can be — so a 50 bps increase would run counter to everything they have convinced markets to expect.

So the jobs report is really a non-event for the market.

Now, the markets will look for the next set of data points for direction and that includes what the Street is expecting for earnings, which begin in four weeks. Word on the Street tells us that forecasts for growth have fallen 9.6 percent, or DOUBLE the average rate.

Why should this concern you?

Well, if they prove to be correct, then that will make five straight quarters of negative growth – and that typically produces a real bear market. (Not one of those swift six-week affairs like we saw in January/February but one that is longer and more painful.)

In the end, I believe we will remain in the 1940/2000 trading range until we get clarity from the Fed at the end of the month.


Commentary by Kenny Polcari, director of NYSE floor operations at O'Neil Securities. He is also a CNBC contributor, often appearing on "Power Lunch." Follow Kenny on Twitter @kennypolcari and visit him at kennypolcari.com.

Disclosure: The market commentary is the opinion of the author and is based on decades of industry and market experience; however no guarantee is made or implied with respect to these opinions. This commentary is not nor is it intended to be relied upon as authoritative or taken in substitution for the exercise of judgment. The comments noted herein should not be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any financial product, or an official statement or endorsement of O'Neil Securities or its affiliates.

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