Weak jobs number not expected to deter the Fed from speeding up its exit from easy policy

Market Insider

Andrew Valenzuela is helped with his application during a job fair at a Post Office in Los Angeles, California on September 30, 2021, as the US Postal Service looks to fill 40,000 seasonal-worker positions in preparation for the winter holidays.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

The Federal Reserve is expected to move toward speeding the winddown of its bond-buying program, even though November’s job growth was well below expectations.

The economy added just 210,000 jobs in November, well below the 573,000 expected in the Dow Jones survey of economists. The unemployment rate fell sharply to a surprise 4.2% from 4.6%, and the labor force participation rate increased for the month to 61.8%, the highest level since March 2020.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said earlier this week that the Fed will consider at its December meeting whether to move sooner to end its bond buying, or quantitative easing, program. Under the initial schedule announced in November, it is slowing the purchases by $15 billion a month, which would signal a June 2022 end.

Wells Fargo’s Michael Schumacher said the market is shrugging off the softer payrolls number, which is often revised. Treasury yields were higher at the short end of the curve. The 2-year note, for instance, was at 0.63%, up slightly but off its highs in late-morning trading. It is most reflective of Fed policy.

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Stocks initially rose but gave up gains and were lower in morning trading, as investors continue to focus on the Fed and the uncertainty about the omicron variant of Covid.

“Unless you get some awful news on the virus and some awful print on CPI, they probably do accelerate the taper. Even though this is an outlier, it’s not bad enough to spook the Fed,” Schumacher said.

The Fed’s dual mandates are full employment and price stability, so any data on jobs and inflation is critical in the analysis of Fed policy. The bond-buying program was one of the extraordinary steps the Fed took to combat the impact of the pandemic, and the ending of it is seen as an important first move towards Fed interest rate hikes.

The focus now shifts to next Friday’s report on the consumer price index, which is expected to show inflation continued to rise and could be even hotter than October’s 6.2% jump.

Traders did see a silver lining in the November jobs report in the smaller than expected increase in average hourly wages, up 0.3% versus 0.4%.

“The point is the Fed’s been worried about a wage price spiral. Zero-point-three [%] is a lot, but not as much as the Fed worried about … Any good news on inflation, the Fed will take,” Schumacher said.

But the jobs number does little to clarify the employment picture. Employers are struggling to fill jobs, as workers retire or wait to return to the workforce. Some economists say the November nonfarm payrolls appear to have missed an increase in hiring, which seems evident in another part of the report.

The employment report contains a survey of employers and households. The household survey indicated a gain of 1.1 million jobs, much stronger that the establishment survey’s payroll number.

“Based on the household survey and the upward revisions we’ve seen in the establishment survey, the Fed remains on track to accelerate tapering by March,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. “They left the door wide open to announce it in December. This does not change Powell’s comments this week.”

Swonk had expected a very strong 750,000 jobs for November.

James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Group, said he expects the Fed to move ahead with its taper announcement, and he’s now watching CPI.

“As hot as the number was last time, that’s going to be a big number,” he said. “I think their minds are made up on taper … What we’re playing with now more is, are they going to do anything with rates next year?”

Swonk said she expects the Fed to begin raising rates by mid-year.

She anticipates the CPI will confirm that the Fed will move ahead.

“I think we’ll hit 6.4%, and that will be the strongest rate since 1982,” she said. But in December, she said the number should start to come down.

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