KEY DATA: Payrolls: +155,000; 3-Month Average: 170,000; Private: +161,000; Revisions: -12,000; Hourly Wages: +0.2% Over-Year: +3.1%
IN A NUTSHELL: “Sustainable is good and that may be the level toward which job growth is finally be trending.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Job gains in November were well below expectations – Yippee! The idea we could sustain hiring at or above 200,000 a month ranked up there with the idea that we could sustain 3% growth for a decade. You have to be living in a state where recreational use of drugs is legal to hold those views. Simply put, the November increase was a welcome sight. The three-month average is still a bit high but a lot closer to sustainable. Job increases were spread across much of the economy with only one major sector, information services, posting a decline. Why motion picture employment cratered is anyone’s guess, so let’s not make too much of that. Health care, food services, transportation and manufacturing all added workers at a solid pace. Even retail trade payrolls expanded.
On the unemployment front, the rate remained the same. A solid gain in the labor force offset a jump in the number employed. Still, the rate is extremely low and that is causing wages to rise. The increase over the year was over three percent for the second consecutive month and that should continue. With some major companies starting to implement $15.00 per hour minimum wages, other firms will have to follow if they are to retain or attract workers. I would be surprised if the wage rise is less than 3.5% by mid-2019.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: Too much of a good thing is too often not a good thing. Everyone wants strong economic, job and wage growth. But the implications of an extended period of above trend growth in any, let alone all those factors, is an economy filled with bubbles. And we know what happens when bubbles burst. So, while those politicians, businesses leaders and business commentators who have been touting the likelihood of robust growth for as far as the eye can see may be unhappy with more moderate gains, economists are overjoyed. Steady, sustainable growth – you know, like we had until about a year ago – means we can stay out of a recession for a longer period of time. It may not lead to a surge in equity prices, but it would also restrain consumer prices. For the Fed, this report allows them to do what they want. A rate hike on December 19th is highly likely, but if the Fed indicates it wants to see what happens to the economy, they can say that. Of course, even if the Fed were to move four times next year, the first move would not come until March, so the members have plenty of time to see if the markets calm down and the trade wars subside. In other words, the Fed really doesn’t have to make any changes other than say that the growth is moderating. Keep in mind, unless growth moves below trend, the unemployment rate will continue to slowly decline and wage gains will accelerate. Even moderate growth could create wage pressures at a level that the worries Fed. Rooting for a halt in Fed rate hikes is either rooting for a sluggish economy or saying that rising wage gains are nothing to be concerned about. I don’t think the Fed members believe either is a realistic way of looking at the economy.