Updated with recent February estimates and news of the House jobs bill passage.
NEW YORK (
) -- The larger meaning of Friday's government jobs report may be buried under a few feet of snow.
The monthly nonfarm payrolls report, scheduled for release by the Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. EST, is known to set the economic tone for any given month. But economists and equity strategists are bewildered about what to expect in February, when several major snow storms disrupted business as usual across much of the country, potentially hampering data results.
"I'd be concerned that there might be some premature extrapolation of that data in the sense it may show the jobs picture is necessarily worse than it actually is," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Jefferies, who's firm is expecting to see a loss of 122,000 jobs. "I think what you need to do is step back and say what was the revision in January and what may March look like, because I think this number is probably going to look worse than it should."
The blizzard-like conditions in February, which shuttered offices and schools in the northeast, may make last month's nonfarm payrolls figures less reliable, reflecting a deeper-than-expected drop due to delayed hiring and start dates, among other things.
Most analysts are expecting some sustained jobs growth to appear soon, but last month may not be it. According to Briefing.com, many believe another 63,000 jobs were shed from nonfarm payrolls in February, while the headline unemployment rate probably edged higher to 9.8%.
The jobs picture has taken on renewed importance in recent months as a sea of workers remain adrift in the unemployed ranks. The Labor Department said the nation lost another 20,000 jobs in January. But bulls were given something to cheer about as the unemployment rate dropped to 9.7%.
Bears, however, found more than enough ammunition in the report, too. The so-called "underemployment" rate, which includes part-timers seeking full-time work and discouraged workers who quit looking, remains unimaginably high at 16.5%. More workers are also going unemployed for longer periods, as the number of people unemployed for 27 weeks or more rose to 6.3 million. And the ranks of jobless minorities are vastly outpacing the broader population, with 16.5% of blacks and 12.6% of Hispanics counted among the unemployed.