Navigating the Labor Market Labyrinth: The Federal Reserve’s Tightrope Walk
June 2, 2023
The recovery of the economy post the pandemic in March-April 2020 brought unforeseen robustness to the labor market. While this resiliency has been a boon for the workforce, it represents a conundrum for the Federal Reserve. The chairman, Jerome Powell, underscores the fact that this robustness is unsustainable and the equilibrium between supply and demand needs to be restored for inflation to align with the Federal Reserve’s 2% target.
Evidence of a Vibrant Labor Market
Several recent indicators have reflected the continued vibrancy of the labor market. The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Report disclosed a larger-than-expected surge in job vacancies on Wednesday, and Thursday’s ADP Jobs Report also outperformed expectations. As for May’s labor statistics, analysts anticipate the addition of 180K jobs to the U.S. economy, a robust figure albeit representing a slower growth rate compared to April’s 253K. Concurrently, predictions suggest a slight increase in the unemployment rate to 3.5% from April’s 3.4%, along with a modest 0.3% month-over-month growth in average hourly wages.
Deciphering the Fed’s Policy
Regardless of potential outperformance in jobs figures, which has been a recurring theme over the past year, the Federal Reserve’s actions may remain unaffected unless the increase is significantly higher than anticipated. As reported previously on WSB, Federal Reserve officials such as Patrick Harker and Philip Jefferson are advocating for a temporary halt in the rate hiking cycle. This would be to make more informed decisions about the scope of additional policy tightening. This viewpoint has gained significant traction, with the odds of a pause in rate hikes soaring to nearly 80% yesterday on CME’s FedWatch Tool, up from just 35% a week prior.
A Contrarian Outlook
Despite the continuous resilience displayed by the labor market since the initiation of rate hikes by the Federal Reserve, SA analyst Damir Tokic offers a contrarian perspective. He anticipates a downturn in the labor market in the near future. The ongoing monthly decline of 3%-4% in temporary help service jobs since December 2022 is a warning bell. He posits that this trend signifies a high probability of being in or nearing a recession. Consequently, he warns that the discretionary sector might witness a sell-off as overly optimistic earnings expectations are recalibrated lower.