Friday, January 9, 2009

Bad analysis? Or outright deception?

CNBC and the Unemployment number

While working at home today, I heard the following stated on CNBC over and over: that while the unemployment numbers that came out this morning were bad, they weren't quite what "the whispers that were going around the trading floor were saying about how bad they could be." I heard a variation of this sentiment, using the word 'whispers' at least three times. The argument was that because this jobs number wasn't as bad as the fears, the stock markets weren't going to take too hard a hit, or would even surprise on the upside.

This was either really bad analysis, or outright deception.

First, I never saw CNBC present any real evidence that investor psychology today saw relief in the jobs number.

Second, the number was horrible and a minimal amount of effort would reveal it as such. For example, let's compare the announced number with the whispers about what the announced number could be. It was released today that December saw us lose 524,000 jobs, less than what worried the so-called whisperers, who feared that the number could be 600,000-700,000. Not so bad, they were reported as saying (I mean, whispering).

Not quite. What CNBC didn't report was that the numbers for October and November were revised significantly downward. (Or if I missed it, they didn't report these revisions as often as they reported the relief of traders as a result of the "low" 524,000 job-loss.) According to the government, October is now seen to have lost 103,000 more jobs that originally thought. And for November, the job losses are 51,000 greater than thought. Together, that's another 154,000 jobs. So, add those to the December numbers. 524,000 + 154,000 = 678,000 job losses announced today. That's right in line with the fears, indeed toward the high side of the whispers.

I guess investors/traders are smarter than to be fooled like that. Despite the positive framing of the job losses, the Dow was down 143 points, and the S&P was down over 2 percent.

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