Why the Jobs Market Keeps Looking Solid for 2017

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If there is one measurement used to track the economy that matters the most to the public, it has to be about jobs. Gross domestic product can rise and fall, but if you are out of a job, the economy feels bad regardless of what the headlines say.

24/7 Wall St. has tracked the ups and downs of the jobs market for years. With President Trump’s pledge to bring more jobs back to America and to rekindle the middle class, we wanted to see what has been taking place so far in 2017. It is just rather important to keep in mind that the year is barely five weeks old.

Two new jobs market indicators were seen on Monday, February 6, 2017. They both confirmed what strength had been seen after the prior week’s strong jobs data.

On Monday, February 6, The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index for the month of January rose, after declining in December. The index was up at 130.04, versus 129.73 in the prior month. The change also represents a 2.4% gain compared to a year ago. More important is the quote from Gad Levanon, who is Chief Economist of North America at The Conference Board:

The continued growth in the Employment Trends Index suggests that job growth will remain solid and perhaps even accelerate in early 2017. In both business confidence surveys and hard data, it appears that businesses are becoming more optimistic and are more willing to expand their workforce.

The Federal Reserve also released its Labor Market Conditions Index on Monday. This rose to 1.3 in January, after December’s −0.3 reading was revised to a positive 0.6 reading. What matters now, after last month’s higher revision, is that this marked the eighth straight positive score. Still, when tallying up the 19 components, it turns out that there is still slack in the jobs market and there seems to be no rising pressure around wages.

Three other measurements were seen in the prior week, and two of them were far more telling than Monday’s economic reports.

The first real look at the economy was a rather strong ADP payrolls report. This was actually shockingly higher than expected payrolls figure for January. This ADP Employment Report showed that the payrolls grew by a whopping 246,000 — far higher than the Bloomberg consensus estimate of 168,000, as well as the highest estimate of 185,000.

Last Friday’s key report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that January’s nonfarm payrolls rose by 227,000. Private sector payrolls were up by an even better 237,000. While ADP’s strength earlier in the week raised the estimates, Bloomberg’s official consensus estimate was calling for 175,000 nonfarm payrolls and 180,000 on the private sector reading.

One issue that clouded the strength of the payrolls report from the BLS was that they workweek was flat at 34.4 hours and hourly earnings did not tick up much (just 0.1%, or four cents, to $21.84 on average). The annual change in January’s average earnings fell back to just 2.5% growth.

Last Thursday’s weekly jobless claims remained quite low at 246,000. The prior week’s report was revised to 260,000 from 259,000. This was the least important reading of the three major reports, but the real issue is that we just are not seeing claims anywhere close to the old 300,000 level, which had been considered to be “normal” each week.

After the strong BLS payrolls report, Lindsey Piegza, who is Stifel Fixed Income’s chief economist, said of the report:

The fastest pace of job creation in four months should be enough to buoy market optimism and put the Fed on notice. But from a monetary policy standpoint, Fed officials are increasingly focused on wage growth as opposed to the headline payroll number as an indication of the health of the U.S. labor market.

Jefferies has commented that the firm still expects two rate hikes in 2017. While January’s nonfarm payrolls report was well above consensus, the firm sees the market expectations of two Fed rate hikes of just 25 basis points in 2017, one in June and one in December.