Popular Economics Weekly
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 312,000 in December, and the unemployment rate rose to 3.9 percent, reported the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics last Friday. Job gains occurred in health care, food services and drinking places, construction, manufacturing, and retail trade.
It looks like the U.S. economy isn’t slowing as much as feared, contrary to the pessimists that have been driving down stock prices, while driving up bond prices, so that the 10-year Treasury bond yield is now 2.65 percent, and conforming 30-year fixed mortgage rates are at 3.875 percent with a 1 point origination fee for the best credit holders.
Health-care providers hired 50,000 people, professional firms filled 43,000 positions, manufacturers added 32,000 jobs, construction firms’ payrolls rose by 32,000 and restaurants hired 41,000 additional workers.
The unemployment rate, meanwhile, rose to 3.9 percent from a 49-year low of 3.7 percent. The percentage of working-age Americans in the labor force climbed to a one-and-a-half-year high as more people looked for jobs. That is a good sign since it means people think more jobs are available.
Strong hiring has also given workers more bargaining power. The amount of money the average worker earns climbed 11 cents or 0.4 percent to $27.48 an hour last month.
Who says the housing market is dead, as well? These low interest rates will stimulate more borrowing and home buying. And Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the Fed would be flexible about raising interest rates this year at a recent conference. “We will be patient as we watch to see how the economy evolves,” given the low inflation outlook, he said.
The employment report contradicted yesterday’s December ISM Manufacturing Index that showed a slowdown in manufacturing hiring, falling more than 5 points to a 54.1 level. This is the lowest showing for this index since November 2016. Especially new orders slowed by 10 points to a 51.1 level that is suddenly very close to breakeven 50. It means approximately half of the supply managers surveyed saw an order slowdown.
This is the lowest showing for new orders since August 2016. Weakness is entirely on the domestic side, says Econoday, as one of the few positives in December's data is a 6 tenth rise in new export orders to 52.8 which is respectable for this particular reading.
The real question is what will economic growth look like in 2019. It will depend largely on a favorable outcome of the trade talks, which means a lowering of the Trump tariffs that do little for American interests, or American consumers.
That’s because higher tariff fees get passed on to consumers, ultimately, which pushes up inflation, then Federal Reserve interest rates; which cuts into consumer spending. And we have to worry about the soaring federal deficits, which means new taxes will be enacted sometime down the road.
However, this doesn’t worry Nobelist Paul Krugman at the moment in a recent NYTimes Op-ed: “…there are things government should be spending money on even when jobs are plentiful—things like fixing our deteriorating infrastructure and helping children get education, healthcare and adequate nutrition. Such spending has big long-run payoff, even in purely monetary terms.”The bottom line is money is cheap at the moment with the very low interest rates, so this isn’t the time to worry about budget deficits. It’s much more important to be investing public monies into future growth and productivity that could even prolong this business cycle, now in its tenth year of continuous growth.
Harlan Green © 2019
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