Solid Employment Report Keeps Fed On Track, by Tim Duy: The labor market finished out the year on a solid note. Solid, not spectacular, and largely consistent with the Fed's expectations. Consequently, the final employment report for 2016 should not impact the Fed's median forecast for 75bp of rate hikes in 2017.
Payrolls rose 156k in December and jobs gains the previous two months were revised upwards by 19k. While good numbers, job growth continues to slow:
Since January 2015, the 12-month moving average of monthly job growth slowed from 262k to 180k. Still, that remains greater than the pace necessary to hold the unemployment rate constant once the demographic impacts again dominate the cyclical factors (Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer estimates that number to be 65k-115k). But the economy continues to trend toward that pace.
Supported by an increase labor force participation, the unemployment rate ticked up to 4.7%, holding just below the Fed's estimate of the natural rate of unemployment:
Measures of underemployment are now again showing signs of improvement, albeit the pace of improvement has slowed along with the pace of job growth:
The pace of wage growth accelerated to 2.9%, the highest rates since 2009:
Overall, the report should win hearts and minds on Constitution Ave. The economy looks to be tracking exactly where the Fed expects it to go, with job growth slowing sufficiently such that the unemployment rate holds steady just below full employment. Such a situation would allow for continued improvement in measures of underemployment while maintaining healthy but not excessive pressure on wage growth. In contrast, recall the concerns about about undershooting the natural rate of unemployment that surfaced during the December FOMC meeting. From the minutes:
...In discussing the possible implications of a more significant undershooting of the longer-run normal rate, many participants emphasized that, as the economic outlook evolved, timely adjustments to monetary policy could be required to achieve and maintain both the Committee's maximum-employment and inflation objectives....Several members noted that if the labor market appeared to be tightening significantly more than expected, it might become necessary to adjust the Committee's communications about the expected path of the federal funds rate, consistent with the possibility that a less gradual pace of increases could become appropriate...
The economy is now at a point where a sudden boost in activity would prompt the Fed to accelerate the pace of rate increases. This employment report, however, suggests this isn't happening just yet.
One note of caution, though. Manufacturing employment rose in this latest report by 17k, the largest gain since January 2016. This comes on top of improved data from the manufacturing sector:
This serves as further evidence that the inventory correction process over the past year has run its course. Note also the improvement in the service sector in recent months:
This suggests to me that risks for growth and hence rates are currently weighted to the upside.
Bottom Line: A solid report largely consistent with expectations among monetary policymakers. Hence it should have little impact on interest rate forecasts for the coming year. But watch out for upside risks to the outlook; the economy gained some traction in the final months of 2016. It is reasonable to believe that traction will hold in 2017.