NEW YORK (
) -- So what exactly is going to bring investors back after a May like that?
was a fitting end to a
month, and all the same questions -- Greece, Spain, the fiscal cliff, what happens when Operation Twist is over? ... take your pick -- remain.
Corporate America is holding up okay. First-quarter earnings season was better than expected and the forward price-to-earnings multiple for the
isn't out of whack at 12.5X, but there's some reason to worry. Earnings estimates for the second quarter have come down in the past month, according to data from
, which says analysts are now expecting profit growth of 7.4% vs. 9.2% on April 1.
Also, two of the sectors that were market leaders earlier in 2012, financials and technology, have seen serious missteps of late;
bad trade and
poor outlook (among others within tech), raising questions about what sector has the wherewithal to pick up their slack.
That leaves the economic data, which has also been just okay of late as well. There are some signs of life in housing but the employment picture is the bigger concern and Thursday's ADP number and jobless claims don't bode well for Friday's May jobs report.
The consensus, according to
, is for nonfarm private payrolls to increase by 168,000, which would be a healthy jump from 130,000 in May but economists were expressing some doubts on Thursday.
"If the official payroll number is in line with ADP - and statistically speaking, ADP is by far the best indicator of payrolls on a month-to-month basis - then May will be the third straight soft month," wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at
High Frequency Economics
. "We think the slowing in employment growth largely reflects the impact of the surge in gas prices between December and April, but with prices now barreling back down we look for better numbers in the summer. In the meantime, we have to expect a payroll tomorrow of about 130K."
are higher, expecting private payrolls of 175,000.
While acknowledging some downside risk to that estimate, Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, stood by the view that any softening in domestic employment numbers in 2012 won't be on the same scale as last year; news that may actually be disappointing to those hoping the
will again be goaded into more quantitative easing.
The labor market has come off the boil a little since spring arrived, but the slowdown is much more modest than the one we saw last year," he wrote earlier on Thursday. "The Fed only signed off on last September's Operation Twist after the initial estimate released early in that month suggested that payrolls had not increased at all in August. There's a big difference between zero and 133,000. QE3 is far from the near certainty that some commentators seem to believe."
Given the quality of the preceding data, this jobs report looks iffy and buying stocks ahead of it against the backdrop of so much fear in the market with bond yields at record lows and an elevated
takes real courage.
As for Friday's other scheduled news, the earnings calendar is thin with
New Frontier Media
among the few names on the docket.
Beyond the jobs report, Friday also brings the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index for May and construction spending data for April at 10 a.m. ET. The afternoon will feature auto and truck sales.
late bounce on Thursday to close with a 5% gain is sure to fuel talk of whether the stock has reached some kind of near-term bottom.
Shares of the social networking giant actually enjoyed a lukewarm upgrade from Pivotal Research early Thursday that may offer some perspective. The firm went to hold from sell and reiterated a $30 price target, slightly above Thursday's finish at $29.60.
"Despite the debacle associated with the IPO itself, the decline in the shares has led to a valuation that in our view incorporates an appropriate amount of risk, helped along in no small part by increased awareness of additional potential large acquisitions and the company's challenges associated with mobility," Pivotal analysts wrote. "The market has also increasingly incorporated diminished/lumpy expectations for revenue growth during the next several quarters."
To be sure though, the firm still sees plenty of risks on the horizon.
"In our view capital expenditures (~$2 billion this year), the likelihood of continued acquisitions without a definitive investment return profile and rising operating expenses are still not fully appreciated by the market," Pivotal argued. "In addition, a massive share lock-up will expire over the course of 2012, potentially introducing up to 1.8 billion shares, or more than $50 billion of value, into the marketplace. We believe many investors will find themselves increasingly aware of these factors, which could potentially act as an overhang on FB share performance."
Fear not, the firm may still be cautious but it's expecting "reasons for optimism" to emerge later this year and early in 2013. That's cold comfort for just about everyone who's holding the stock so far unless they got in at around 3 p.m. ET on Thursday but it's still something.
Written by Michael Baron in New York.
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