Good News, Bad News: Jobs Data Upsets the Dow

The much-awaited December unemployment report didn't inject joy into the markets this morning, as another drop in the unemployment rate was offset by a dearth of new jobs.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average expressed dismay by dropping precipitously around midmorning. While it had started to gain back ground thereafter, as of noon EST the index was still in the red by 58 points.

Things may be rocky through the day on the Dow, as investors chew on the Bureau of Labor Statistics data. With a mere 74,000 jobs joining the economic landscape in December, the drop in the jobless rate to 6.7% from its previous 7% is apparently causing some consternation. Not only did markets expect nearly 200,000 new jobs, but the labor force participation rate dropped to 62.8% from November's 63%.

Investors may also be worried about the pacing of the Federal Reserve's taper, as well as a rise in short-term interest rates, which the Fed has said will be considered when the unemployment rate reaches 6.5%. However, the recent Federal Open Market Committee minutes reiterated the Fed's commitment to keeping rates low "well past the time" when that benchmark is reached.

Big banks expect to keep their wallets open in 2014
The banking sector is a mixed bag this morning, with JPMorgan Chase down more than 0.8% and Goldman Sachs up by 0.3%. The latter had a bit of good news today, as global financial regulators agree to ease off on one aspect of Basel III rules, which would have made banks' leverage ratio uncomfortably tight. Banks such as Goldman Sachs had complained that adding up derivatives on a gross, rather than net basis would be too strict, and would cost U.S. banks money under certain accounting rules.

JPMorgan has prompted its peers and their legal teams to sharpen their pencils as they try to figure out this year's liability for the industry using the new, hefty settlement guidelines recently experienced by the nation's biggest bank. According to The New York Times, a price of $50 billion is being bandied about -- which doesn't include JPMorgan's recent $13 billion settlement with U.S. regulators. Big banks' boards of directors are looking for some kind of reasonable tally that could free the industry, once and for all, of the problems caused by the mortgage meltdown.

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