The Treasury market staged a startling rally Friday, with long-term bond prices climbing more than a point despite a fresh jolt of news that ordinarily might drive prices lower. But short-term bills weakened.
The Labor Department reported that unemployment dropped to a four-year low in November amid an unexpected jump in nonfarm jobs. Such news in theory should have sent prices into a tailspin, since economic vigor can aggravate inflation pressures that utimately hurt the value of fixed-income securities.But traders and investors chose instead to focus on some comforting news in the report, which triggered a buying spree of long-term bonds.
By the end of the day, the price of the Treasury's main 30-year bond was ahead 1 7/32 point, or $12.19 per $1,000 in face value. The yield, which moves in the opposite direction, plunged to 7.90 percent from 8.01 percent late Thursday.
Meanwhile, prices of short-term government notes rose only slightly, while Treasury bills posted losses. Analysts said many traders apparently sold these short-term maturities and used the proceeds to buy the longer-term bonds.
The Labor Department said a seasonally adjusted 350,000 new workers were added to the nation's nonfarm payrolls last month, pushing the unemployment rate to 5.6 percent from 5.8 percent in October. That is the lowest level since August 1990.
Among the soothing signs in the job market report was a two-cent decrease in the average hourly wage after a seven-cent-an-hour increase in October. Also, the average work week declined slightly from 34.9 hours to 34.6 hours.
"The numbers that were received in the employment situation report apparently revealed strength but the bond market is choosing to focus on other factors to give it support," said Kevin Flanagan, a money market economist at Dean Witter, Discover & Co.
Still, the bond market's reaction to the report showing strong job growth in November confounded analysts who thought evidence of economic vigor would upset traders and cause a widespread sell off. Some observers said many investors apparently had been waiting for an opportunity to buy bonds.
"It's still a mystery to many people," said Anthony Karydakis, senior financial economist at First Chicago Capital Markets. "It's too difficult for many people to rationalize. But many participants who were on the sidelines for a long time decided to come in."
Inflation-wary investors cited other potentially comforting signs. A separate Commerce Department report showed the government's chief forecasting gauge of future economic activity fell in October for the first time in 15 months. The Index of Leading Economic Indicators slipped 0.1 percent in October.
In yet another report, the government said orders to U.S. factories fell in October for the first time in three months, led by a sharp drop for cars and other transportation equipment.
Flanagan said bond traders also were encouraged by the dollar's performance, which rose above 100 Japanese yen for the first time in nearly two months. He said renewed dollar strength could attract Japanese investors back into U.S. bonds.
Prices of short-term Treasury securities ranged from 1/32 point to 5/32 point higher and intermediate maturities advanced 6/16 point to 13/16 point, the Telerate Inc. financial information service reported.