Markets, which tend to focus on US non-farm payrolls and the unemployment rate, may be relying on an incomplete and arguably inaccurate picture of the US labour market which fails to fully take into account a still sizeable pool of available workers.
Job creation has been robust in recent years, but the working age population has also increased while the share of full-time employees remains modest. As a result, the ratio of the working-age population employed in full-time jobs, currently 48.7%, remains well below its historical average.
Importantly this ratio tends to lead the growth rate in private sector employees’ hourly earnings and points to earnings growth only rising modestly in coming months from around 2.4% year-on-year.
The policy implication, all other things being equal, is that the Federal Reserve may not have to worry near-term about a tight labour market boosting pay-packets and in turn wage-led inflation. With US GDP growth having collapsed in Q1, global growth having slowed further to around 2.6% year-on-year and global PMI and Chinese trade data showing little bounce in April, the Fed’s decision to keep rates on hold so far this year is at least defendable.
My core scenario of one or two Fed rate hikes this year remains feasible but my expectation that the Fed would pull the trigger in June will likely be proven wrong. The Fed fund futures market has all but discounted a mid-year hike, currently pricing in a probability of only 8% for a 25bp hike, versus 23% back on 26 April.
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