The October employment report showed a moderation in U.S. job growth, adding to signs that the blazing labor market may be starting to ease. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 150,000 last month, lower than consensus estimates of 180,000 and a slowdown from September’s revised gain of 289,000 jobs.
The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.9% from 3.8% in September, hitting the highest level since January 2022. Wages also rose less than expected, with average hourly earnings climbing just 0.2% month-over-month and 4.1% year-over-year.
October’s report points to a cooling job market after over a year of robust gains that outpaced labor force growth. The slowdown was largely driven by a decline of 35,000 manufacturing jobs stemming from strike activity at major automakers including GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
The United Auto Workers unions reached tentative agreements with the automakers this week, so some job gains are expected to be recouped in November. But broader moderation in hiring aligns with other indicators of slowing momentum. Job openings declined significantly in September, quits rate dipped, and small business hiring plans softened.
For investors, the cooling labor market supports the case for a less aggressive Fed as the central bank aims to tame inflation without triggering a recession. Markets are now pricing in a 90% chance of no rate hike at the December FOMC meeting, compared to an 80% chance prior to the jobs report.
The Chance of a Soft Landing Improves
The decline in wage growth in particular eases some of the Fed’s inflation worries. Slowing wage pressures reduces the risk of a 1970s-style wage-price spiral. This gives the Fed room to pause rate hikes to assess the delayed impact of prior tightening.
Markets cheered the higher likelihood of no December hike, with stocks surging on Friday. The S&P 500 gained 1.4% in morning trading while the tech-heavy Nasdaq jumped 1.7%. Treasury yields declined, with the 10-year falling to 4.09% from 4.15% on Thursday.
Investors have become increasingly optimistic in recent weeks that the Fed can orchestrate a soft landing, avoiding recession while bringing inflation back toward its 2% target. CPI inflation showed signs of moderating in October, declining more than expected to 7.7%.
But risks remain, especially with services inflation still running hot. The Fed’s terminal rate will likely still need to move higher than current levels around 4.5%. Any renewed acceleration in wage growth could also put a December hike back on the table.
Labor Market Resilience Still Evident
While job gains moderated, some details within October’s report demonstrate continued labor market resilience. The unemployment rate remains near 50-year lows at 3.9%, still below pre-pandemic levels. Labor force participation also remains above pre-COVID levels despite a slight tick down in October.
The household survey showed a gain of 328,000 employed persons last month, providing a counterweight to the slower payrolls figure based on the establishment survey.
Job openings still exceeded available workers by over 4 million in September. And weekly jobless claims remain around historically low levels, totaling 217,000 for the week ended October 29.
With demand for workers still outstripping supply, risks of a sharp pullback in hiring seem limited. But the October report supports the case for a period of slower job gains as supply and demand rebalances.
Moderating job growth gives the Fed important breathing room as it assesses progress toward its 2% inflation goal. For investors, it improves the odds that the Fed can achieve a soft landing, avoiding aggressive hikes even as inflation persists at elevated levels.