Jobs report signals higher interest rates ahead

Bond yields rose to a six-week high as traders saw the surprise gain in February jobs as a sign of a stronger economy, and a signal that interest rates could continue to move higher.

February nonfarm payrolls totaled 175,000, well above the consensus of 150,000. The unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent, from 6.6 percent. The survey also showed the number of people with jobs who stayed home because of bad weather was 601,000, the highest level since February, 2010.

The 10-year yield, touched 2.81 percent, the highest level since Jan. 23 and was holding at the top of its recent range – 2.785 percent. It also caps a dramatic week for the benchmark yield,which touched a low of 2.60 percent Monday.

“You had concerns about the weather. It’s one of the biggest four-day moves over the last two-plus years, and it’s coincided with the dissipation of weather concerns,” said Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG. Greenhaus said if a too-rapid rise in rates continues, that would weigh on stocks.

“If it it gets above 2.85, it could start to be a drain on stocks,” said Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS. Traders expect the 10-year to move back toward 3 percent if data continues to look better. It was last at 3 percent on Dec. 31.

Stocks had a more muted reaction to the jobs report, with the Dow up double digits, the S&P up about 3 at 1880, but the Nasdaq turning slightly negative.

Getty Images Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Getty Images
Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Traders said the data was strong enough to signal that the Fed will continue on its path of tapering back on the now-$65 billion-a-month bond buying program. It also breaks what could have been a three-month trend of extremely soft employment data.

“I just think what you find from this report, if you excluded weather, we’d probably be above the recent trend,” said John Canally, strategist and economist with LPL Financial. “Before the weather it was a 175,000 to 200,000 range. Maybe you’d get 225,000 to 250,000 as the new run rate. I think if you can push aside the weather, this is a really solid report and it gets you back where you were before the weather became a factor.”

Markets have been struggling to separate the impact of weather on economic data, to determine whether the weakness is fleeting or the result of a bigger slowdown. A build in inventories at the end of last year is also seen as a factor in the slowdown.

“The (bond market) momentum is definitely shifting a little on the negative side,” said Ian Lyngen, senior Treasury strategist at CRT Capital. “We already broke out of the range of the last couple of weeks.”

He said he expects a bias toward higher rates into next week when the government auctions $64 billion in 3- and 10-year notes and 30-year bonds.

“I think it provides some support to the idea that the slowdownin job creation seen in the last couple of months is a transitory issue,” he said.

Greenhaus said the market may be in for a best case scenario if there is positive follow through in other data.

“This was the most bullish scenario, you look through the data. People ignore it. The stock market continues to march higher, and in the spring when the data turns around, we rally even more on the better data,” he said.

(Read more: Yellen says cold weather may have impacted economy)

—By CNBC’s Patti Domm. Follow her on Twitter @pattidomm.

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