Traders await this week's 'hugely critical' number
When the November employment report is released on Friday, it could have a huge impact on stocks and bonds alike. That's because it will not only give investors a clue about the strength of the economy. It also is expected to give another indication of when the Federal Reserve should begin to taper its quantitative easing program.
"It's the paramount number that the Fed is looking at it," said Jeff Kilburg of KKM Financial. "Therefore, it's what we're looking at."
With the Fed looking for the chance to reduce the pace of its $85 billion monthly bond-buying program, the November number could show the type of economic strength that will persuade it to finally take that long-awaited step.
"It always seems as if the next employment report is the most important one we have had in some time, and it certainly feels that way again, given the fact that the Fed continues to contemplate tapering asset purchases," Deutsche Bank chief U.S. economist Joseph LaVorgna wrote in a Wednesday note. "Another month of solid job gains increases the probability that policymakers will taper when they meet at the December 17-18 FOMC meeting."
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After all, the Fed's well-known cliché is that its policies are "data-dependent." The minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee's October meeting said that FOMC members "generally expected that the data would prove consistent with the Committee's outlook for ongoing improvement in labor market conditions and would thus warrant trimming the pace of purchases in coming months."
Brian Stutland of the Stutland Volatility Group believes that the Fed's focus on data could wind up catching some investors off-sides.
"The November jobs report is hugely important, given what the Fed minutes said in terms of tapering," Stutland said. "A lower unemployment rate would definitely indicate tapering sooner than [Fed chair nominee Janet] Yellen indicated from her testimony."
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On the other hand, a weak jobs number could do wonders for the market.
The jobs report is "hugely critical," said Jim Iuorio of TJM Institutional Services. "Mixed numbers, ... not too hot and not too cold, [are] perfect to start pushing taper back, and the stock market could like a number that's just kind of good."
But not everyone is hanging so closely on Friday's report. Andrew Wilkinson, the chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak, believes that the Fed has more or less much made its decision already.
"I think it's pretty unambiguous that the labor market is in a much better place than it was just eight months ago. So I don't necessarily think the November payroll report is a big deal in terms of whether it encourages taper or not," Wilkinson told CNBC.com. "I think a December taper is going to happen, and I think the signs are pretty clear for those who wish to read them."