The January jobs report was a good one — too good, as far as the markets were concerned.
Nonfarm payroll jobs grew by 200,000, compared with an expected increase of 180,000 (among economists surveyed by Reuters), and average hourly earnings were up by 2.9 percent over their January 2017 level, which represented the biggest annual increase in wages since 2009. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate, the labor-force-participation rate (LFPR), and the LFPR among prime-working-age men all held steady. That last figure — the participation rate among men aged 25 to 54 — has now been at 89 percent for two consecutive months; by way of perspective, it was below 89 percent from mid-2011 through late 2017.
The downside of all this positive economic news, from the perspective of investors, is that it may prompt larger-than-anticipated interest-rate hikes by the Federal Reserve. Thus, after the jobs report came out, the yield on ten-year U.S. Treasury notes jumped to a four-year high, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by a few hundred points.
“The reaction in the bond market is due to the rise in average hourly earnings,” D.A. Davidson analyst James Ragan told CNBC. “I think the market is now thinking of the possibility that the Fed could raise rates four times this year rather than three.”
On that same topic, here’s what Markets & Money Advisory CEO Lars Christensen wrote for Bloomberg View before the jobs report came out:
“Our favorite indicator for U.S. equity valuations now shows that the S&P 500 Index has become slightly overvalued. This overvaluation is not dramatic, but it is the largest since 2008. At the same time, inflation looks set to overshoot the Fed’s target in the medium term. The overshoot won’t be large, but it could ultimately trigger faster rate hikes than presently being priced by the market.”
In short: The jobs report was encouraging — particularly the wage-growth numbers — but the future of America’s economic expansion will depend heavily on upcoming Fed decisions.