Risk & Compliance

Are Traders Jumping the Gun on Government Reports?

One recent morning, stocks and bonds began to move just as they should have ''if someone knew the jobs numbers ahead of time.''
Dave CookApril 12, 2004

About two weeks ago, job seekers and President Bush received some welcome and unexpected news: Non-farm payrolls climbed 308,000 in March, the strongest month since April 2000. The March expansion was about triple the 103,000 increase that Wall Street pros were anticipating, CFO.com noted last week.

It seems, however, that some traders may have heard the news — and acted on that knowledge — a little sooner than they should have.

Shortly after the March jobs figures were announced, Reuters reported that the Department of Labor was looking into “unusually large price movements in financial markets” that began about two minutes before the release of the report at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, April 2.

Now The New York Post has quoted unnamed traders who observed an “impressive run-up” in the Standard & Poor’s June stock futures contract between 8:15 and 8:25 that morning. “Meanwhile, the 30-year government bond contract dropped sharply” between 8:20 and 8:25,” noted the Post, “just what it should have done if someone knew the jobs numbers ahead of time.”

The jobs figures are provided to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers the night before, and reporters get to see them at 8:00 a.m., added the Post, citing a source in the Labor Department. The paper also noted that reporters are “locked down” at Labor until the official 8:30 release time.

A source at the Labor Department told the Post only that “the SEC and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission are perhaps looking into” the trading.