Executive Edge

The stocks that surge—and sink—on jobs Friday

The stocks that surge—and sink—on jobs Friday
The stocks that surge—and sink—on jobs Friday

Another month, another jobs report. When March's number hits on Friday, here's how you play it.

With history as our guide, we looked for the best trades when nonfarm payrolls beat or miss expectations. Over the last decade, the report has fallen short of expectations more often than it has surpassed them. According to Kensho, a tool designed to quantify historical market events, the number has missed consensus by a margin of 10,000 jobs 56 times since 2006, versus 45 beats by the same margin.

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One-hundred-gram gold bars sit on a one-kilogram gold bar, center, at Gold Investments Ltd. bullion dealers in London, July 15, 2014.
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When the number comes in above forecasts, it's typically seen as a positive for the economy by market players. More jobs generally translate into better economic growth, greater spending power and more ranks of the insured. So industrials, materials, consumer staples, consumer discretionary and health care have been among the best performing sectors on the day.

The leading individual stocks follow a similar pattern. GM, Monster Beverage and staffing firm Robert Half International are among the top S&P performers.

But when the report misses consensus, look to defensive sectors and safe havens on the day of the release.

When fewer jobs are being created than the market expects, concerns may arise about economic growth. The major benchmarks tend to fall while utilities and precious metals outperform. Select gold ETFs, like the SPDR Gold Trust ETF and the iShares Gold Trust have been good bets along with gold miners Yamana and Goldcorp.