Unemployment and Payrolls Meet Goldilocks

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It has not been too unusual to see many of the economic numbers showing some signs of slower growth in recent weeks and months. The same is now true of the U.S. Department of Labor’s monthly Employment Situation Report for the month of November. There might actually be some good news here, and the equity indexes managed to rally on the number’s strength not being robust.

The Labor Department reported that the nonfarm payrolls rose by only 155,000 on November, and the official unemployment rate held steady at 3.7%. While this would have been considered adequate in prior years, the consensus estimates had an average of about 190,000 nonfarm payrolls expected. Private sector payrolls rose by 161,000 in November, less than the ADP reading of 179,000, and total government jobs were down by 6,000 payrolls.

October’s nonfarm payrolls were revised down to 237,000 from the initial 250,000 and September was revised to 119,000 from 118,000 initially reported. All said and done, that’s 12,000 fewer jobs from two months of revisions on top of a less strong report for November.

While it seems counterintuitive to hope for weaker growth, this is good news if you are worried about the Federal Reserve remaining too hawkish in their rate hike ambitions.

Another bit of good news, again if you are a Fed hawk watcher, is that November’s average hourly earnings came in a tad light at 0.2%, versus the average 0.3% that was expected. October’s hourly earnings also were trimmed down by 0.1 point to a mere 0.1% gain.

It seemed unusual to see this as well, but the average workweek dipped to 34.4 hours in November from October’s 35.5 hours per week.

All in all, this was a Goldilocks economic report — not so hot that it causes big inflation and not so cold that it causes a recession.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t release long quotes on its report, but the weaker ADP trend for November has something that investors, economists and even Goldilocks will all want to keep in mind. And Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said with Thursday’s weaker ADP report:

Job growth is strong, but has likely peaked. This month’s report is free of significant weather effects and suggests slowing underlying job creation. With very tight labor markets, and record unfilled positions, businesses will have an increasingly tough time adding to payrolls.

The major equity index futures had been weak on Friday after Thursday’s big snapback rally. After about 15 minutes of trading, the index gains were up about 90 points on the Dow Jones industrial average to 25,038 and up six points on the S&P 500 to 2,702. The Nasdaq was lower by about eight points at 7,179.