KEY DATA: PPI: -0.1%; Goods: -0.1%; Services: -0.2%/ Claims: +3,000
IN A NUTSHELL: “The Fed keeps saying inflation will rebound, but right now, there is little hard data to think that will happen soon.”
WHAT IT MEANS: The members of the Fed are convinced inflation will rebound in the months ahead. Even today, New York Fed President William Dudley repeated that refrain. And I agree that should happen. But it would be nice if there were some data to support that belief. Producer costs went nowhere in July. The weakness in goods costs continued. Yes, food and energy prices declined over the month, but excluding those volatile components, finished goods costs were up only modestly. The big surprise in the report was the drop in services prices. Transportation, warehousing, government, you name it, services costs were down. This decline was so widespread and so odd, given that services had been leading the inflation push, that I am just not certain what is going on. Looking outward, there is not a whole lot of pressure at the intermediate or crude goods levels.
Jobless claims edged up last week, but the level is still quite low, reflecting the tightness in the labor market. This is important because yesterday, the second quarter productivity and labor costs report was released. Labor costs rose only moderately in the second quarter after having surged in the first. Adjusting for inflation, hourly wages, while up in the second quarter, are still down compared to last year. While the Fed members think that some temporary factors will unwind that will start the upward trend in inflation, to sustain the higher rate, wages will have to rise faster. The latest data just don’t say that is happening.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: Inflation pressures are modest, whether they be producer costs or labor compensation. Job openings are soaring but that hasn’t forced businesses to either raise wages or even increase their recruiting intensity, which DHI reported. Firms are hiring, despite their complaints that they cannot find qualified workers, but they are not paying more for either their new employees or upping the wages of their current workers. That is showing up in the generally decent earnings numbers. But how long that can continue given productivity growth is modest is anyone’s guess. I have been wrong on the wage issue for so long, I no longer say that compensation is about to surge. (Of course, whenever I back off from a forecast, it usually comes true, so don’t be surprised if wages rise faster in the third quarter.) Regardless, inflation, consumer spending and Fed policy all are dependent on wage increases and if they stay low, the Fed will be pressured to go very slowly as it hikes rates and shrinks its balance sheet. As for investors, if earnings stay good, that is all that is needed to keep up the euphoria.