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The Fed Still Has a Long Way to Go To Reel in Wage Inflation

Economy
0 min read
Image Credit: Andrew Hudson (Flickr)

Employers Added 263,000 Jobs in November, How this Impacts Future Fed Decisions

There were many more jobs created and filled in the U.S. during November than expected. This may, on the surface, seem like a good thing for the economy, markets, and job seekers. But any expectation that the Fed is past the tipping point and is winning in the battle against conditions that increase prices will have to be curbed for a while.

The number of new hires points to unmet demand in filling positions, and the increase in wages directly adds to the cost of goods sold. Unmet high labor demand is inflationary and part of why the Fed is clear that it is not done.

Fed Chair Powell spoke last Wednesday in a lengthy address outlining the challenges that face the Fed and the avenues it is most likely to take. There is nothing in the strong November jobs report that alters what Powell has said. In fact, it may underscore the resiliency of the economy that the Fed is looking to temper. If you weren’t of the belief that the Fed would push Fed Funds beyond 5%, there is evidence that the Fed may need three 0.50% increases or more before it steps back.

Background

The Fed Chair and other Fed officials have reiterated in recent days that they are likely to lift rates and hold them at levels high enough to slow economic activity and hiring to bring inflation down from 40-year highs.

The just-released employment report for November was expected to come in far below the level reported. Digging even deeper into the numbers, it showed continued rampant hiring and elevated wage growth. The Fed had been hoping to keep a wage-price spiral at bay and get ahead of the supply-demand issues pushing wages and prices up.  

The November Unemployment Report

The headline number showed that employers added 263,000 jobs in November while the unemployment rate held steady at 3.7%. But the revised wage data in Friday’s release could concern Fed officials because it points to an acceleration in pay gains in recent months. For the three months that ended in November, average hourly earnings rose at a 5.8% annualized rate. This is a surprising increase from an initially reported 3.9% annualized rate for the three months that ended in October. Economists had expected the U.S. economy had gained 200,000 jobs last month.

At the same time, senior Fed officials have made sure it is no surprise if they lessen the size of rate increases in coming meetings. The next FOMC is the Dec. 13-14 meeting; the Fed is expected to move 0.50% rather than another 0.75%.

Most major stock market indices have traded lower, taking a bearish tone from the report and signs the Fed still is a little behind in its effort to squelch inflation-feeding activity.

Of interest to investors, the sectors with the most job gains were the leisure and hospitality and healthcare industries, both of which had been hard hit during the pandemic, and in government, where employment levels are still 2% below where they stood in February 2020.

Take Away

“To be clear, strong wage growth is a good thing,” Powell said this week. “But for wage growth to be sustainable, it needs to be consistent with 2% inflation.”

The accelerated pace of job growth in November, coupled with upwardly revised October statistics, makes clear to the markets the persistent challenge facing the Federal Reserve. The central bank has repeated that it needs to see some slack in the labor market in order for inflation to fall. This could come from reduced labor demand or increased labor supply, or both.

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