US Economy Defies Skeptics With Blowout Jobs Number
Skeptics grappling with conflicting data between the substantial increase in state unemployment figures and the recent non-farm payroll data were surprised by the blowout December Jobs Report. It showed that hourly earnings exceeded expectations, and the unemployment rate remained at a low 3.7%. Additionally, treasury yields surged, with the 10-year Treasury rising above 4% mid-day.
Today’s nonfarm payroll report highlights the strength of the US economy while also diminishing the likelihood of a Fed rate reduction in March. The Federal Reserve had recently met and signaled that a rate cut in March was improbable. The stellar earnings from companies like Meta and Amazon, as well as record highs in the stock market further suggest the overall health of the economy, making the Fed question if they should consider rate cuts in a seemingly robust environment. Better to keep rate cut powder dry in the event of a financial accident or deep recession.
Nonetheless, it’s essential to consider the backdrop of numerous layoff announcements. Despite the dominance of big tech companies in financial news, all is not entirely well in the broader economy. A significant regional bank experienced a 40% drop in its stock price due to issues related to its commercial real estate portfolio. UPS, often considered a barometer of economic activity, reported significant layoffs and plans to cut 12,000 jobs. While the exact timing of a potential negative jobs report remains uncertain, there are indications that the economy might be showing signs of weakness. This could lead to lower bond yields later in the year, though perhaps not as soon as initially anticipated by Wall Street.
Inflation is on the decline but may not reach the 2% target anytime soon. Hot wars in the Middle East and robust consumer spending are creating uncertainty on inflation. However, even with a baseline assumption of 3% inflation, the Fed still has room to cut short-term interest rates by as much as 1.00% to 1.5% from the current 5.25%. This would keep rates in a “restrictive territory” without harming the economy and the banking system. Lower rates would particularly benefit real estate activity. The expectation is that rates will trend lower come August.
One consideration for lower rates, even with elevated inflation, is the global surge in government debt, with the US being no exception at over $34 trillion in debt. The Fed is cognizant of this massive liability and might be compelled to lower rates to assist the Treasury in servicing the country’s bill. The size of the US debt is gradually becoming a prominent issue that cannot be ignored any longer.