After much handwringing and speculation, the Labor Department delivered a measure of salvation to the markets when it announced that more than 244,000 new jobs were created in April, well above the 185,000 jobs most analysts had predicted.
The good news -- it was the most jobs added in a single month in more than five years -- sent all the major indices up a full percentage point after a decidedly languid week of trading ahead of this key economic report.
Maybe more encouraging, believe it or not, was the fact that overall unemployment in April inched up 0.2% to 9% largely because the survey counted more people who resumed looking for work. In other words, thousands of unemployed Americans last month made the effort to get a job because they thought they might actually get one.
"The labor market turned in a third straight strong monthly gain," said Kathy Bostjancic, director for macroeconomic analysis at The Conference Board. "But it is likely to turn a little choppy over the next few months. Expecting it to stay consistently strong in the face of just meager growth in domestic demand seems like wishful thinking."
"However, embedded in this story is the apparent business assessment that they can maintain healthy profits while adding to payrolls," she added. "If that is true, the labor market is truly on the way back, even if it's a long way back."
Ahead of Friday's jobs reports, crude oil prices actually regressed to below $100 a barrel and commodities as a group took some steep hits on fears that the employment data would disappoint and curtail demand for oil and other raw materials as consumers and companies reassessed their short- and long-term economic outlooks.
When the surprisingly strong jobs data hit the wire, oil prices immediately resumed their ascent and moved above $100 a barrel.
Meanwhile, the RBC Consumer Outlook Index for May fell to 42.9, down 1.9 points from April's 44.8 score, mainly because of staggeringly high gas prices.
The survey found that almost half of all Americans are scaling back their vacation plans as a direct result of paying $4 or more a gallon at the pump.
"With gasoline price increases showing little sign of abating, this month we asked once again how this impacts discretionary spending," Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, said in the report. "The results highlight the psychological element involved with rising gasoline prices, as people revise their pain threshold according to the reality of what is happening at the pump."
Three-in-10 Americans surveyed between April 28 and May 1 said they have curtailed their discretionary spending as a direct result of higher prices at the pump. Another 41% said they would definitely reduce their consumption if -- or maybe when -- gas prices eclipse $4.50 a gallon.