NEW YORK ( ETF Expert) -- I genuinely expected the primary media outlets to spin the 7.6% unemployment rate as cause for celebration. Instead, many finally chose to explain the reality behind employment in America; that is, the number of potential employees in the labor force is at 63.3% -- the lowest percentage of workers in the workforce since 1979.
Psychologically, it may feel better to hear that the unemployment rate is at its lowest level in four years. However, when 500,000 Americans stop working, cease looking for employment and are no longer accounted for in the official data, the creation of a mere 88,000 jobs will distort the true picture. In fact, I cannot recall a greater disconnect between one unemployment stat that trumpets sterling success (i.e., U-2 at 7.6%) and another that reflects dismal deterioration (i.e., labor force participation at 63.3%).
Is the country really getting its collective act together? Has the jobs outlook brightened such that things are dramatically better than four years earlier ... and trending in a positive direction? Or Is the employment picture the worst that it has been in nearly 34 years ... and trending in a negative direction?
For weeks, I've been harping on the idea that investors should be raising cash and/or rotating to more defensive equities in non-cyclical segments. Examples include:1. April 1, 2013. Selecting Safer Growth and Income ETFs for the Second-Quarter Pullback 2. March 13, 2013. Diminishing 'Wealth Effect' Requires ETF Portfolio Changes 3. February 22, 2013. Why An Upcoming Pullback Could Whack Financial ETFs By no means do I pretend to be prescient. Nor did I rely on the overhyped seasonal pattern of "Selling in May and Going Away." Rather, defensive sectors (e.g., consumer staples, health care, utilities, telecom, etc.) have been offering less beta risk than growth-oriented segments while simultaneously providing equal or greater reward. Are the defensive non-cyclicals expensive on a historical P/E basis? Absolutely. Yet the premium one is paying for that safety pays off during a time when worldwide economic uncertainty is massive. Can the U.S. stock market continue dismissing the deepening eurozone recession as well as the questionable solvency of many European financial institutions? Vanguard Europe (VGK) does not seem to think so. Can the U.S. stock market continue to ignore the impact that currency appreciation against the euro and yen is having on emerging markets. Vanguard MSCI Emerging Markets (VWO) does not seem to think so. Can growth-oriented stock sectors in the U.S. economy (e.g., technology, energy, financials, industrials, etc.) prosper on the shoulders of Federal Reserve interest rate manipulation alone? PowerShares S&P 500 High Beta (SPHB) does not seem to think so either.