Yields on The Bond Buyer's municipal bond indexes were basically unchanged this week, as conflicting and inconsequential economic data kept players on the sidelines, waiting for today's employment report for May.
The 20-bond and 11-bond indexes of general obligation bonds each declined one basis point, to 6.57% and 6.45%, respectively, from 6.58% and 6.46%.
The 30-year revenue bond index's yield was also down one basis point, to 6.73% from 6.74%.
The average yield to maturity of the 40-bond daily Municipal Bond Index was unchanged at 6.64%.
Municipals performed slightly better than governments, as the 30-year Treasury bond's yield rose two basis points, to 7.87% from 7.85%.
In the short-term municipal market, The Bond Buyer's one-year note index slipped one basis point, to 3.36% from 3.37% last week.
The municipal market ended last week on an upbeat note, but that quickly evaporated Monday when the National Association of Purchasing Management reported that its index rose to 56.3% in May, from 51.3% in April. That was the fourth straight monthly increase in the index, and the new level was well above the consensus forecast of 52%.
A reading above 50% indicates the economy is generally expanding, while a reading below 50% suggests a general contraction.
In addition, the index's employment component surged to 49.1%, its highest reading in three years, which hinted that today's report on nonfarm payrolls could show a substantial gain for May.
The purchasing managers' data overshadowed other economic reports for May that showed a 0.3% drop in construction spending, a 0.1% rise in personal income, and a 0.3% increase in consumer spending.
The markets made a partial comeback Tuesday on weaker than expected new home sales for April and the Federal Reserve System's purchase of coupon securities maturing in 1993 or later. Home sales rose only 1.3%, considerably weaker than the 6.4% forecast.
The rebound came on a day when $2.5 billion of new municipal bonds hit the market. The tax-exempt market had started the day on a weaker note after the index of leading economic indicators was reported to have risen 0.4% in April, its fourth straight increase and higher than the expected 0.2% gain.
By Wednesday, without firm numbers to show where the economy is headed, market participants were content to sit tight and wait for today's employment data. The markets ignored Wednesday's report of a 1% rise in new orders for manufactured goods for April, and yesterday's report of a 4,000 gain in new filings for unemployment insurance, to 407,000 for the week ended May 16, was within expectations.
Kevin Flanagan, an economist at Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., noted that new filings have been hovering around 400,000 for weeks, suggesting that "the improvement we've been seeing in the nation's labor force is stalling out to a degree."
Government traders said an increase in nonfarm payroll jobs of 75,000 to 100,000 was already built into current prices, and economists surveyed by The Bond Buyer expect a 95,000 gain in payrolls.
An increase of about 125,000 would only depress prices temporarily, a Treasury note trader said, but a bigger gain could do considerable damage. "The key is whether the report persuades retail investors that the economy is growing so quickly that they ought to sell securities," the trader said.
Another trader said, "The big fear is that you do get a big pop in the economy and rates will just go south."