Today’s poor jobs report was a surprise as Covid cases have been declining for the last few weeks. There is a strange dichotomy that has developed in the U.S. labor market. There are over 11 million job openings, yet there has been a continuous decline in the working population. The Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) fell to 61.6% as 183,000 people left the labor force. Businesses across the county are offering higher starting salaries and cash perks to attract workers. Higher up the pay scale, policies such as work from home and flexible work schedules with higher wages seem to favor the employee, yet all types of businesses are struggling to fill open positions.
The combination of wage inflation and goods inflation remains top of mind for many economists, along with the fear of a slowing economy and rising costs. With major supply chain disruptions, as well as a lack of workers, the busy fall buying season is shaping up to be one for the ages. Cargo ships at the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach are backed up for weeks. Dry shipping costs are outrageously expensive. Companies that can pass on the rise in the costs of goods and labor will do so. The big concern is that even with rising wage inflation if the prices of goods go up more than the increase in wages it is still a net loss for lower-paid workers. The massive disruption by Covid will take many months to work itself out and the cost to the consumer is higher prices.
Support for the transitory argument on inflation by the Fed is beginning to wane as the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond is trading above 1.60%. For the moment, the equity market is agnostic to this move higher in bond yields, but should this trend continue, volatility will pick up, especially with high-beta long-duration technology stocks. Rising rates may also cool the red-hot housing market. Even with the rise in housing prices in the last 18 months, ultra-low interest rates have kept payments reasonable and therefore have offset the expensive housing market. With a high probability that the Fed will need to begin tapering its bond purchases by the end of this year, rates could move up meaningfully. Absent Fed QE, time will tell what the market will require for bond and mortgage yields to catch a bid and how other markets will be affected if interest rates drift higher.