U.S. economy added surprisingly few jobs in May, likely delaying the next Fed funds rate hike

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United States Macroeconomic and Markets Dashboard: Updated June 4, 2016

Dashboard update summary:

The employment summary released on Friday was surprisingly weak, with only 38,000 new jobs added to the U.S. economy during May and previous month figures revised down. The BLS estimate was dramatically below consensus forecasts. Many macroeconomic indicators remain positive and in line with Fed targets; households have been spending and investing more and inflation is above one percent. However, the surprise job growth weakness is sufficient to delay the expected timetable for Fed interest rate hikes.

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Macro: GDP revised upward but business investment still strongly negative

In the second estimate, 2016 Q1 U.S. real gross domestic product (GDP) growth was revised upward to 0.8 percent from 0.5 percent. Private inventory investment did not decrease as much as previously estimated. Gross domestic investment from businesses remains strongly negative, following negative corporate profits in 2015 Q4 and very low profits in 2016 Q1. Slow real GDP growth is a result of the offset of negative business investment on sound household data. Household incomes increased in April, while expenditures decreased slightly in real terms but remain strong.

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Jobs day disappoints

Economists’ consensus view that between 100,000 to 200,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy in May was met on Friday with a surprisingly paltry 38,000 increase estimate from the BLS. The weak data was surprising enough to cause large immediate jumps in bond and foreign exchange markets.

Meanwhile, the headline unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent from 5.0 percent, the largest decrease in several months. The fall in the headline rate had more to do with people “leaving the labor force” than with the addition of new jobs, unfortunately. The labor force participation rate fell to 62.6 percent in May. Many of those who left the labor force had been unemployed for 27 weeks or more and where therefore discouraged enough to stop trying to find a job.

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Bond and FX markets react

Treasury bill and bond constant maturity yields fell in response to the expected delay of interest rate hikes. The yield curve (see below a simple visualization) remains relatively low and flat. The real yield on a five year treasury, for example, fell to -0.22 percent on Friday, June 3. Foreign exchange markets saw an almost universally stronger U.S. dollar in response to the jobs report. The dollar closed roughly two percent weaker against the Euro, Yen, Australian Dollar, Krone (2), Krona, and Ruble, roughly one and a half percent weaker against the Swiss Franc, Real, Lira, and Ringgit, and more than three percent against the Rand.

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Rate hike delay

Where U.S. macroeconomic data has not been thrilling, labor market strength and wage increases were, in the previous few months, supportive of a June Fed Funds target rate increase of a quarter point, to 0.5-0.75 percent. The new jobs report, therefore, softens the strongest pillar. Markets have basically taken a June hike off the table. The next jobs report will be watched very closely and will likely determine whether a July hike is appropriate. Given the timing of Fed meetings and the expected gradual increase rate, it is more likely that we only see one rate hike during 2016.

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Dashboard update: Inaction has reactions

Dashboard PDF file:

Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (April 30, 2016 — PDF)

Dashboard update summary:

Markets closed down slightly on the week following inaction from both the Fed and Bank of Japan. Oil and Yen both still became five percent more expensive in dollar terms. Advance estimate 2016 Q1 real GDP growth was weak at 0.6 percent, but in line with expectations. Labor markets continue to be a bright spot, with eyes on next Friday’s April jobs report.

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Real GDP ticked up 0.6 percent in log terms in the first quarter of 2016. Personal consumption expenditures and residential fixed investment helped to keep GDP growth positive despite a decrease in nonresidential fixed and inventory investment, and growth in the trade gap. The personal savings rate also increased slightly, in quarterly terms, to 5.2 percent in Q1 from 5.0 percent the previous quarter.

FOMC meeting statement changes are kindly highlighted by the Wall Street Journal and include removal of the language about global risks and, some suggestion in my view, based on labor market growth, household income, and consumer sentiment, of a June rate hike. This would depend on continued labor market strength and price pressure plus an upward revision of Q1 GDP.

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Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) continued to increase in Q1, led by higher spending on services. However, monthly data on PCE as a share of GDP decreased slightly in March over its February level. PCE on durable goods as a percentage of GDP was also down slightly in March, to 7.3 percent from 7.4 percent in February.

Labor market data continues to be spotless. The weekly 257,000 new jobless claims is still near the multi-decade low. Next Friday is jobs day. Both the labor force participation rate and wages should continue to improve.

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Disappointing earnings data from Apple includes the first decline in iPhone sales nearly since its introduction and a slowdown in sales in China. This hit the Nasdaq particularly hard, as the composite index was down 2.7 percent while the S&P 500 and Dow Jones industrial average fell 1.3 percent each during the week.

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Oil prices still managed to climb five percent over the past five days. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil was trading above $46 a barrel at several points during the week. Two recent stories reminded me how oil price fluctuations cause enormous transfers of wealth between countries. Jamaica was praised in this week’s Alphachat series on sovereign debt, while noting that their recent fiscal fortune is aligned with lower prices on their fuel imports. Likewise, a recent IMF publication noted that oil exporting economies in the middle east and central Asia have enacted powerful fiscal stimulus measures to keep their economies moving while they suffer the oil revenue slowdown. Those who believe in the resource curse might note that government measures to shift the economy away from oil are both important and difficult to achieve.

Lastly, the Yen had a volatile week, closing with a five percent appreciation against the dollar. The Brazilian real appreciated nearly four percent during the week, the Swiss franc and Turkish lira appreciated nearly two percent each, the pound sterling nearly one and a half percent and the Canadian dollar nearly one percent.

The full dashboard is here: Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (April 30, 2016 — PDF)

Dashboard update: signs of price pressure

Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (April 9, 2016 — PDF)

The first full week of April saw active but net slightly down equity markets. While new economic data during the week was positive, expectations about corporate profits and output levels in the first quarter of 2016 are low. In light of solid fundamentals, and increasing aggregate demand, pessimists (including on the campaign trail) seem to be overreacting. Price data shows signs of upward pressure after an extended decline, and may soon join labor market and equity market indicators in signalling accelerating economic expansion.

The Nasdaq composite index fell 1.3 percent on the week, while both the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.2 percent. Volatility, as measured by the VIX, closed Friday 17 percent above its previous week level. The Shiller index of price to earnings ratios climbed in March to 25.5. Expectations about first quarter earnings are very weak.

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Prices data showed a continuation of upward pressure in March from commodity and food prices. Oil prices climbed more than eight percent during the past week. U.S. oil inventory fell for the first time in eight weeks. March CPI data, due out next week, should reflect the rising fuel and commodity prices.

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World food prices, measured by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, showed an uptick in March from a jump in sugar prices. This is only the second material increase in the world food price index since early 2014.

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The trade-weighted dollar index continues to show a depreciation in the U.S. dollar. To the frustration of the Bank of Japan, the Yen appreciated nearly three percent against the dollar during the past week, which is not included in the lagged trade-weighted index. The dollar did appreciate against many emerging market currencies, pound sterling, and the Canadian dollar, during the past week.

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Dashboard update: volatility persists but investor sentiment improved

Macro and Markets Dashboard: United States (January 30, 2016 — PDF)

A busy week for economists, as the Fed met, advance estimate 2015 annual and 2015 Q4 GDP figures were released, and earnings results were announced for hundreds of U.S. companies. Of course, the Fed did not change interest rates, and actually softened their statement language some. The first estimate of 2015 Q4 GDP growth showed a slowdown. Earnings, especially from Facebook, did not disappoint.

Advance estimate GDP data from the BEA showed real GDP growth in 2015 Q4 was lower at 0.7 percent (annualized basis), down from two percent in Q3. Analysts have been expecting a lower rate of growth, so this was not a huge surprise, though it is not great news. The strong dollar has hurt exports, while inventories and savings rates have both increased. The economist offered a nice piece of analysis on the GDP slowdown. As usual, the data will be revised a few times.

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The FOMC meeting during January 26-27 was not stopped by winter storm Jonas, though it seems the policymakers are being slowed by forces much much further away. As noted in the Fed’s statement (PDF):

The Committee is closely monitoring global economic and financial developments and is assessing their implications for the labor market and inflation, and for the balance of risks to the outlook.

The FOMC’s additional consideration of volatility abroad is a real wrinkle for monetary policy makers who have an already limited toolkit. Given the potential consequences of highly divergent monetary policy, this additional consideration has become a reality.

Equity market indices were higher on the week. The S&P 500 was up 33 points or 1.7 percent, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 372 points on the week, 2.3 percent. Much of these gains came from a surge on Friday.

Corporate high yield bond yields fell during the week, but remain in dangerous territory. The yield spread of Merrill Lynch’s index of high-yield corporate bonds over 10 year treasuries remains above 7 percent.

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The U.S. dollar softened against most major currencies during the week, including by half a percent each against sterling and the Euro. The dollar weakened by 1.39% against the Australian dollar, 1.75% against the Canadian dollar, 2.5% against the South African rand, more than 3.5% against the Malaysian Ringgit, and more than 6% against the Russian Ruble.

The dollar strengthened by more than 1.6% against the yen during the week, as the Bank of Japan announced that it would take its battle against deflation to the next level by adopting a negative key interest rate.