Tax-exempt bond prices fell 1/2 point Friday as a surprisingly positive May jobs report caught traders off guard.
The majority of economists and bond market specialists interpreted the figures, including increases in nonfarm payrolls, the average workweek, and average hourly earnings, as signaling an end to the recession. And prices immediately responded by tumbling for the sixth straight trading session, putting them down two points on the week.
Tax-exempt supply, which has been heavy for the last four weeks, suddenly became a problem as permanent investors and trade buyers pulled back. Traders said that the buyers still have plenty of money to put to work, but will probably now wait for higher yields.
Traders had their own problems with current long positions and seemed unwilling to add to them before next week's inflation numbers come out. And forward supply is not backing off that much, with $2.5 billion of long-term bonds expected this week and another big calendar on tap for next week.
Michael Moran, chief economist at Daiwa Securities America Inc., described the employment report as "very good for the economy." He said the figures were a convincing indication of an end to the recession, or even the early stages of a recovery.
The 0.3-hour increase in the average workweek was a sign that many employers were increasing output and in some industries even adding workers, Mr. Moran said. He was even more impressed by the 0.9% jump in the index of hours worked in May.
Against this background, Mr. Moran said he saw no more easing by the Federal Reserve unless there was another reversal in the economic indicators. He predicted that the lowest the 30-year bond would go now is to the 8.35%-8.40% level. He wasn't that positive on inflation either, suggesting that it would come in at 4% for 1991.
But Philip Braverman, chief economist and senior vice president at DKB Securities Corp. had a different theory, arguing that the recession is "definitely not over" and that there would be a "new downward leg in the third quarter of this year." He admitted, however, that the bond market is caught up in the feeling that the recovery is "not only imminent, but is already here." This psychology could push the yield on the long government bond as high as 8 3/4% this week as traders also worry about $100 billion in government securities in the third quarter.
Mr. Braverman pointed out that for past recessions that have lasted more than two quarters, there has been a quarter where the economy turns around, but then lapses back into recession. He attributed this latest turnaround to record warm May temperatures in many parts of the nation that prompted sales increases in items such as summer clothing and air conditioners, and to the end of the Persian Gulf war which helped bring the economy back to the trend line of the recession.
But there are only an "appearance of a recovery and are only temporary," Mr. Braverman suggested. He is very optimistic about the inflation rate, looking for it to moderate to 3% to 3 1/2% for 1991 and go down more next year.
In dollar bond trading on Friday, last week's Hawaii AMT airport 7s of 2020 slipped to 96 1/4-1/2 to yield 7.29%. The prior weeks's Los Angeles County Transportation Commission uninsured 6 3/4s of 2020 were at 95.80-96 to yield 7.08%.
In the more seasoned market, New York LGAC 7s of 2016 were at 94-94 1/2 to yield 7.49%. And Florida State Board of Education 7 1/4s of 2023 were at 101 1/2-102 1/2 to yield 6.95% to the 2004 par call.
Note prices were basically steady as the week came to a close as traders awaited this week's big calendar. There could be as much as $2.6 billion in the market if the $1.3 billion Los Angeles County tax and revenue noted get priced by Morgan Stanley & Co. Next week, the $3.9 billion New York State Trans are expected.