The next two job reports are going to be the most important we’ve gotten in years.
And for reason: The Federal Reserve.
There are growing expectations for the Fed to raise interest rates this year, potentially as soon as September.
The Fed has stressed, however, that it will be “data dependent” in looking to raise rates. And what it needs to see, at the end of the day, is improvement in the labour market.
And so Friday’s jobs report serves as the first of two huge litmus tests for the US labour market ahead of the Fed’s September 17 policy announcement.
Via Bloomberg, here’s a quick overview of what Wall Street is looking for on Friday:
- Nonfarm payrolls: +225,000
- Unemployment rate: 5.3%
- Average hourly earnings, month-over-month: +0.2%
- Average hourly earnings, year-over-year: +2.3%
- Average weekly hours worked: 34.5
The language and message of the Fed’s July policy statement were virtually unchanged, except for the addition of one crucial word: “some.”
In July, the Fed said it needs to see “some further improvement” in the labour market before it hikes rates. In June, the Fed said it needed to see “further improvement.”
In a note to clients this week, Citi’s Steven Englander argued that “some” improvement for the Fed is a standard that would likely be met with job gains over 200,000 and a resulting drop in the unemployment rate.
Ahead of the report, Goldman Sachs’ Jan Hatzius noted that ISM’s non-manufacturing composite PMI, which surged to a ten-year high of 60.3 in July, supports the case for a better-than-expected number on Friday.
Hatzius, however, pointed to the employment components of the major manufacturing reports weakened last month.
Goldman Sachs, for its part, expects payroll growth in-line with consensus.
Initial jobless claims, a weekly reading on unemployment insurance filings in the US, fell to historic lows last month.
During the reference week for the jobs report in July, claims fell to 255,000, a level not seen since November 24, 1973 — when Richard Nixon was still US president. The four-week moving average, which smooths some of the report’s volatility, also fell in the most recent report to 268,250.
And while the annual retooling at auto factories could have created a seasonal glitch, some economists still saw the strength of this data point as evidence that the labour market is firming.
A disappointing part of the June report was wage growth, though economists at Nomura said that a “calendar quirk” was behind the lack of wage growth in June.
And although wage growth is lower on the list of data points the Fed is relying on to raise rates, it is a crucial barometer of where the balance of power in the labour market lies.
Last Friday, the Employment Cost Index — a broader measure of wages than the hourly earnings figure set for release on Friday — showed that wage growth fell to a record low of just 0.2% in the second quarter.
July’s average hourly figure, however, is forecast to rebound to 0.2%. “We doubt that June marked the start of a weaker trend, however, given that other wage measures and all the anecdotal evidence point to a clear acceleration,” Capital Economics’ Paul Ashworth wrote in a note to clients.
Ashworth expects wages jumped 0.3% in July.
Societe Generale notes that after two straight harsh winters that shook the economy, a warmer than usual summer should “provide a modest lift to net hiring in the July report.”
Chris Rupkey at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, one of the most bullish economists on Wall Street, is looking for a September rate hike and a big number on Friday.
“Whatever the print on this number 8:30 am New York time on Friday, try to remember, it really is not about one-number,” Rupkey wrote in an email.
“The economy has improved. Period. The data would have to be very weak to stop the Fed from hiking rates in September.”
Last week Business Insider’s Myles Udland detailed that the next month of economic data is the biggest for the US economy in years.
On Friday, we cross our first major checkpoint.