Careful What You Wish For: Weak May Payrolls Meet Lower Revisions for April and March

Jon C. Ogg

It has to be an interesting time when the stock market is hoping for slower growth and weaker economic news. That’s a recipe that might just tempt Jerome Powell and fellow Federal Reserve members to take back some of that tightness from rate hikes by lowering interest rates. After a weak showing from ADP payrolls but a stronger report from the monthly ISM data

, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has confirmed that hiring hit a serious wall in May. Nonfarm payrolls rose by only 75,000 for the month, which was about 100,000 short of consensus estimates that were published earlier in the week.

There is some data that may skew some of the payroll views. Private sector payrolls still rose by 90,000 and the government payrolls contracted by 15,000 in May. On top of weaker than expected hiring in May, April and March’s solid gains were revised slightly lower as well. The official unemployment rate remained flat at 3.6% and continued to be nearly a 50-year low.

March’s nonfarm payrolls report was revised down from a gain of 189,000 to just 153,000, and April’s payrolls report of 263,000 was revised down to 224,000.

Average hourly earnings on private nonfarm payrolls gained six cents to $27.83 per hour from the prior month. Over a year ago, average hourly earnings are up by 3.1%. The BLS also showed that average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees increased by seven cents to $23.38 per hour.

In May, the number of people who were unemployed less than five weeks increased by 243,000 to about 2.1 million, after a decline in May. The number of long-term unemployed people, which is those who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more, was fairly flat at 1.3 million and they accounted for 22.4% of the entire unemployed population.

Employment in professional and business services added 33,000 jobs in May, and that figure is now 498,000 higher over the past 12 months. Health care payrolls grew by 16,000 and are now up by 391,000 jobs over the past year. Construction payrolls rose by only 4,000 in May, and that sector is up by 215,000 jobs over the past 12 months. Employment changes were very small in other major industries: mining, manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and government.

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons declined by 299,000 to 4.4 million in May. Over the past 12 months, the number of involuntary part-time workers has declined by 565,000.

The labor force participation rate was flat at 62.8% and the employment-population ratio was also flat at 60.6%.

Equity futures were marginally higher after the weaker than expected jobs report. Dow futures were up 49 points and S&P 500 futures were up seven points. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was down over five basis points to 2.07%, and the yield on the 30-year Treasury note was down about six basis points to 2.57%.