Not everyone got caught flat-footed at the anemic level of job creation in April. In fact, many investors appeared to be bracing for it.
Stock-based funds saw huge outflows in the days leading up to Friday's nonfarm payrolls report, which showed the economy added just 160,000 new positions, or 42,000 below what Wall Street economists expected. Funds lost nearly $17 billion in investor cash, according to figures released Friday by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
The fund exodus was more evenly distributed than usual, with exchange-traded funds surrendering $4 billion, or 0.5 percent of total assets, while mutual funds lost $13 billion. BofAML strategists labeled the move "risk-off into payrolls" as investors withdrew the most cash for a week since September.
That could explain the fairly muted market reaction to the April jobs report. Major market averages actually rose slightly at the market open Friday. The weak report caused expectations for a Fed rate hike this year to diminish even further, with traders pinning the chance of even one hike this year at just 50-50. The had been off 0.7 percent for the week heading into the day's trading, putting it about flat for the year.
Not everyone was ready for the big payrolls miss. Goldman Sachs on Thursday put out a strongly above-consensus estimate of 240,000. (Goldman chief economist Jan Hatzius was due to appear on CNBC at 10:30 a.m. ET.)
On the other hand, payroll services firm ADP, which has a somewhat spotty record when it comes to anticipating the government's payroll count, just missed for April with an estimate that private companies added 156,000 workers for the month. The actual Bureau of Labor Statistics count put private job expansion at 171,000, with an 11,000 decline in government workers accounting for the total nonfarm number.
Capital Economics had been predicting payroll growth around 170,000.
"Employment was never going to continue rising at more than 200,000 a month indefinitely," Paul Ashworth, Capital's chief U.S. economist, said in a note. "Those monthly gains are simply unsustainable in an economy with a potential economic growth rate of less than 2 percent."
Indeed, GDP in the U.S. grew just 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015 and 0.5 percent in the first quarter of 2016. The Atlanta Fed estimates second-quarter growth at 1.7 percent.