NAROFF ECONOMIC ADVISORS, Inc.
Joel L. Naroff
President and Chief Economist
INDICATOR: January Employment Report
KEY DATA: Payrolls: +243,000; Private Sector: +257,000; Unemployment Rate: 8.3% (down 0.2 percentage point)
IN A NUTSHELL: “The economy is starting to turn the corner and the labor market is finally becoming a beneficiary of the improving economic conditions.”
WHAT IT MEANS: For months the data were coming in stronger than expected but it was not clear that businesses were willing to loosen the hiring strings. Well, that may be changing. Private sector firms hired a ton of new workers in January and the gains were across the board.
We were not just talking about service sector positions, though there were a lot of those. But while retailers added only about 10,000 workers, manufacturers hired an additional 50,000 people. Construction, wholesale trade, health care, transportation, professional services, temporary help and restaurants all joined in on the hiring binge.
There was some weakness in finance and information services. The biggest cutbacks, though, were in the public sector, as usual. Local education is still suffering the largest brunt of the budget cutbacks. With hours worked and wages rising, income should be up solidly as well. That will add to spending power, which is badly needed.
But the really good news was on unemployment front. The unemployment rate hit its lowest level in three years. There have been three consecutive declines of 0.2 percentage point, a drop that is much faster than anyone expected but not likely to be sustained.
In January, the improvement came despite a sharp rise in the labor force. That was offset by a huge increase in the number of people who say they are employed, showing it was the economy not statistics that are driving down the rate. (Note: The unemployment rate and payroll numbers come from a different survey.)
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: This is the first time in a long time I can talk effusively about an employment report. It was strong in all components. Payroll gains were across the board. The unemployment rate decline resulted from rising employment not a declining labor force. Wages rose as did hours worked. What was not to like? Nothing!
Since the bottom was hit in February 2010, the private sector has brought back almost 3.7 million workers. Clearly, the jobless recovery is no longer jobless. Still, can we expect the good news to persist? Maybe not at the pace we saw in January, but conditions are such that solid payroll gains and a slow steady decline in the unemployment rate are likely to continue.
Unemployment claims are low enough to support further declines in the rate. Improving conditions in the manufacturing and services sector as reported by the Institute for Supply Management argue that the payroll increases can be sustained.
We still face the restraints of weak housing and limited credit so don’t expect economic or employment growth to surge. But it is likely we will see at least 2.5 million new jobs created this year. The unemployment rate could go below 8% by the fall. Those are not spectacular numbers but just a few months ago not very many people had that in their forecasts (I did, which is why I am saying that.)
Investors should love this report but Mr. Bernanke should be wondering why he insisted on saying that rates will stay low for another three years. If this labor market improvement continues, that is not likely to happen.
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