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2 ETFs for Continued Strain in the Labor Market

Stocks in this article: VYM HILO

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

NEW YORK ( ETF Expert) -- Regardless of what the Bureau of Labor reports on Friday (3/9/2012), job market conditions in the U.S. may actually be softening. For the last three weeks, new jobless claims have headed higher. What’s more, Gallup’s unemployment and underemployment measures show net job gains on the decline.

Considering the fact that voters continue to rank the economy as the number one issue in primary contests, and with gas prices well above $100 per barrel, should one expect the stock market to roll over? Not necessarily.

A genuine job boom might actually put pressure on Treasury bond yields, not to mention the Federal Reserve's promise to keep rates near 0% through 2014. If job creation and GDP both remain modest, however, the Fed would likely continue purchasing seven-to-10-year maturities in the ongoing effort to support business and consumer borrowing. The Fed’s ongoing intervention would also ensure that the spread between earnings yields (E/P) and 10-year Treasuries remains “gynormous.” And investors could conclude that – in the absence of any domestic recession fears – shares of profitable corporations deserve higher prices.

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As I type, the S&P 500 is precisely at the spot it inhabited on the last day of April… at the previous 52-week high of 1363.61. (We all know what followed in 2011.) However, earnings are 15% higher than they were last April, suggesting that prices could still be fairly valued at a new all-time high for the S&P 500 at 1567. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to look at today’s stock prices — even if you’re a perma-bear — and argue that equities are fundamentally overvalued.

Naturally, bears do have their honey. Middle East tensions, commodity price inflation and “boxed-in” Fed policy decisions could weigh on sentiment. The endless European debt disaster as well as slower growth from China could also sink stock ships.

Nevertheless, pullbacks, mini-corrections and profit-taking are likely to empower institutional advisers to take more risk in 2012. Why? Because the street adage, “Don’t fight the Fed” now extends to the European Central Bank, Bank of Japan and People’s Bank of China. All of the world’s major economies intend to maintain ultra-accommodative policies — policies that practically force investors further out on the risk ladder. In essence, big money is not going to fight the world’s central banks.

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