August Employment Report, Manufacturing Activity, Consumer Sentiment and July Construction

KEY DATA: Payrolls: +156,000, Revisions: -41,000; Unemployment Rate: 4.4% (up from 4.3%); wages: +0.1%/ ISM (Manufacturing): +2.5 points; Orders: -0.1 points/ Confidence: up 3.4 points/ Construction: -0.6%

IN A NUTSHELL: “The jobs report was not disappointing as the increases are now closer to the moderate growth we are seeing in the economy.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Since the July employment numbers were released, I have been saying I cannot figure out where all those workers are coming from if businesses are complaining that they cannot find qualified employees and job openings are at record highs. Well, it turns out that the government got a little carried away when estimating payroll increases for June and July and revised those numbers downward. BLS may have gotten it right in August. Yes, the number of new positions added was well below expectations, but it is right in line where it should be given the labor shortage and moderate growth pace. Indeed, the August increase may have been a little high the second biggest increase was in manufacturing, the vehicle sector in particular. Given the slowdown in sales, don’t be surprised if vehicle companies cut back on hiring in September. There weren’t any other sectors that added above-average jobs. As for the rise in the unemployment rate, it was minor, though minimal labor force growth is not a good sign. The participation rate was stable. Finally, wage growth remains minimal and troubling.

The manufacturing sector picked up steam in August. The Institute for Supply Management’s index rose solidly, led by strong hiring. That confirms the jobs increase reported in the August employment report. However, while production is booming, orders grew less rapidly and inventories soared, so we could see a softening in this sector going forward.

The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index rose in August, confirming the increase reported by the Conference Board. Interestingly, respondents indicated that current conditions are softening, even if they are still raising their hopes about the future.

Construction slowed in July. Weakness in nonresidential activity more than offset a solid rise in housing. This is important because business investment in structures added to growth in the spring. That could turn around this quarter.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: Today’s employment data gets us closer to economic reality. The job numbers didn’t fit with other data, so the downward revisions were not surprising. The August growth rate is what we should be seeing and closer to what I expect going forward. That doesn’t mean the economy is slowing: It isn’t. It’s just that job gains now better reflect economic growth and the tightness in the labor market. This report is also more in line where the Fed expected, so it shouldn’t change any views. The FOMC members are more worried about wages than jobs and right now, compensation remain moribund. The next meeting September 19-20 and I don’t expect any rate hike, though we might get some indication when balance sheet reductions will start.