Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Slower July Jobs Growth Worrisome

Popular Economics Weekly

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 157,000 in July, and the unemployment rate edged down to 3.9 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in professional and business services, in manufacturing, and in health care and social assistance.
A 157,000 rise in nonfarm payrolls for July is at the low end of Econoday's consensus range but is still healthy growth that is strong enough to absorb new entrants into the labor market. And revisions showed a net 59,000 gain with June revised up to 248,000 and May higher at 268,000 in what were two very strong months for job growth.

So the jury is out on when this fully employed economy will begin to slow down. The stock and bond markets are predicting another six months of growth, even with the trade war uncertainties. Trump seems to be holding off on bringing down the hammer of additional Chinese tariffs of $200B, and says he will work in concert with the EU on bringing China to the fair trade table.
The payroll increases were led by temporary help services which rose 28,000 in a very strong gain that indicates employers, stacked up with orders and backlogs, “are scrambling to meet demand,” says Econoday. “Construction payrolls also standout with a strong 19,000 gain in the latest indication of strength in this sector. Manufacturing payrolls rose 37,000 to more than double Econoday's consensus with trade & transportation, reflecting strong activity in the supply chain, up 15,000. Weakness in payrolls comes from mining, down 4,000 after a long series of gains, and also government payrolls which fell 13,000 to nearly reverse the prior month's 14,000 jump.”

Another caveat to continued growth is a slowing of activity in the service industries, at the lowest level in 11 months. ISM’s Non-manufacturing Composite Index reported both new orders, down more than 5 points to 57.0, and backlog orders, down 5 points to 51.5, show softening. Export orders in this report, at 58.0, remain very strong but are down 2.5 points.

Overall business activity also slowed, down nearly 7.5 points to 56.5 with delivery times showing less stress. Input prices remain highly elevated at 63.4, up nearly 3 points in the month, said the ISM.

But there is still the threat of higher auto tariffs, and Midwest farmers are being hurt by higher agricultural tariffs aimed at Trump country, so we can see that a sharp acceleration in inflation might unsettle both the job and financial markets.

Higher inflation and interest rates, in other words, should tell us whether the rising import and export prices will hurt jobs and company earnings in coming months.

Harlan Green © 2018

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