Absolutely nothing, and that is the whole point.
Unless the number of jobs added in October turns out to be substantially higher or lower than September's 114,000 (±10,000), or the unemployment rate is way higher or lower than the anticipated 7.9 percent, the report should be treated merely as news cycle fodder and not as an actual basis for voting. The reasons are:
No October Surprise
The numbers should be in line with recent months since nothing happened in October to dramatically affect the economy. Sure, there were the presidential debates, but all we learned from them is that the two candidates don't like each other, have different values and priorities, and have divergent ideas on how to get the economy back on track -- all things we have known for several months now and which carry no surprise. There was the extensive post-mortem of the Libyan attack, but that has no bearing on employment, except perhaps minimally at contractors hoping to rebuild Libya eventually. Finally, the report was compiled prior to Hurricane Sandy and so does not reflect the fallout from the storm.
Reality of Economic Change
No matter what some politicians or pundits would like us to believe, the U.S. economy is not a fast-moving speedboat but a lumbering leviathan that is only capable of moving very slowly towards its destination. While an economic system can certainly collapse in a matter of days due to electronic trading, complex financial instruments, instant news, and global interconnectedness, the other side of the coin is markedly different. Recovery actually takes a long time and even then is often more a question of two-steps-up-and-one-step-down than a single leap to the top.
What this means is that a single snapshot of the economy in time tells us virtually nothing by itself. What counts more is the trend in new jobs, the unemployment rate, and GDP growth for the past year (which collectively indicate that the economy is expanding and new jobs are being created but not fast enough to make a big difference to unemployment, at least partially because of the high baseline that we began at after the 2008 financial crisis). By recognizing the trend, you can decide whether the economy is moving in the right direction or not, but if you are looking for a "smoking gun" report to answer that question, then your judgment is more likely to be a knee-jerk response than a considered opinion.
Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle
Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle states that when we observe an object, the act of observing it can impact the object itself, or in this context, the bets that employers are placing on the outcome of the election and its impact on the economy (based on expected taxes, regulations, housing levels, stock market response, and other factors) through their demand for and supply of goods and services, prices, and hiring levels, is dictating the course of the economy itself. As a result, numbers that come out in the immediate run-up to the election are liable to be artificially inflated or deflated by the behavior of the business community, and therefore misleading -- which is another reason that the long-term trend is a more reliable indicator of our true economic health.
Taking all this into account, it becomes clear that the only thing to really weigh up on November 6 is whether you believe that overall President Obama's slow and steady economic plan is working (I believe it is and make my case in "Built to Last: Why Obama's Economic Plan is Superior to Romney's") or whether our country needs a new leader like Mitt Romney, who represents himself as a financial messiah by virtue of being a successful businessman, but who has offered few specifics on how he will actually deliver on his promise of economic nirvana.
And once you have determined the answer to that question, you will at least have made an educated choice rather than one driven by isolated statistics and political spin.
SANJAY SANGHOEE has worked at leading investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein as well as at a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and is the author of a financial thriller, "Merger", which Chicago Tribune called "Timely, Gripping, and Original". Please visit www.sanghoee.com for details.
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