The eulogies were eloquent and kind, punctuated with the positive impact of one man’s life work. I suspect that Apple will miss Steve Jobs immensely in the coming years. Above all, Jobs was a masterful salesperson. He sold a culture to his employees, and they bought it. He sold innovative products at expensive prices, and consumers eagerly bought them. Selling requires persuasion, charisma and a dose of hyperbole. These attributes aren’t easy to bring together, and Apple will struggle until they find a competent chief salesman to pitch to consumers like Jobs did.
Our current economy is missing jobs also. And it will continue to struggle until we find some. As we digest the data stream of economic statistics at LeConte, the jobs report is the most important indicator we are watching right now. On the first Friday of each month at 8:30 a.m., the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) releases the Employment Situation Summary for the prior month. This report details unemployment, the number of jobs created (or lost), average hourly earnings and hours worked. In August and September, it signaled to us that the economy, while not strong, wasn’t grinding back into recession. In the past three months, the economy created more that 200,000 new jobs, a far cry from the massive monthly job losses in the 2008 recession. The problem is that we need to create 200,000 new jobs each month. Until we do, the economy will limp along slightly above stall speed.
While the broad unemployment number for our nation hovers above 9 percent, teenagers (ages 16-19) are dealing with an unemployment rate of 24 percent. One segment of our economy is doing very well though – college-educated adults. The unemployment rate for workers holding a bachelor’s degree or higher was only 4.2 percent in September.
So, until we can get our overall unemployment rate down, the economy will continue to sputter along. By focusing on the unemployment rate as an economic indicator each month, investors can cut through much of the financial noise that leads to poor investment decisions.