Jobs Report: Fed to Stay in 'Easing' Mode
The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
By Lena Komileva
NEW YORK (BBh FX Strategy) -- There is no "W" scenario priced into the markets, but the disappointing May jobs report will fuel the emerging debate about whether the U.S. economy is entering a "soft patch" or reverting to a more sustainable, lower pace of growth as the income and wealth effects of the Fed and the fiscal stimuluses begin to wane.
After a series of weaker-than-expected U.S. growth figures, the wide margin of the negative surprise in the May employment figures will solidify fears that market expectations overstate the underlying trajectory of the economy. Given that the key question for risk sentiment concerns whether the economy can generate enough income to plug the gap left by the end of the Fed's quantitative easing (a cyclical peak in the size of the Fed's balance sheet after this month) and fiscal tightening in the second half of the year, this is a bearish signal for equity and commodity markets and for cyclical G10 currency majors.From the Fed's perspective, a rise in the unemployment rate from 9.0% to 9.1% and a dip in wages growth from 1.9% to 1.8%, merely a rounding error of 0.1 percentage point away from the cycle low of 1.7%, depicts a picture of continued disinflationary pressures as the waning recovery momentum is by far insufficient to close the output and labor gaps in the U.S. economy. The current picture of the economy's structural health is further clouded by the directional analysis -- with respect to the forward direction reflected in the report, both the output and the income analysis point to a more sustained slowdown ahead. From the perspective of output trends and labor demand, the slowdown was most pronounced in the dominant private services sector, traditionally a cyclical bellwether of overall labor demand and a signal that this probably marks the beginning of a more fundamental slowdown rather than a temporary blip related to auto-sector supply-chain disruptions after the Japan disaster. From the income side, following on yesterday's first-quarter productivity figures, the wages data suggest that U.S. real labor compensation is set for a third consecutive quarter of contraction, opening a growing income/liabilities gap on consumer balance sheets given depressed home values. This is bearish for consumer sentiment and consumption and the underlying inflation trend. Overall, the figures indicate the Fed will remain in quantitative-easing mode longer than the market expects. With two fed fund rate hikes priced in for 2012, the continuation of bullish-curve-flattener trades (and the erosion of the U.S. forward rate advantage against the rest of the world) is bearish for the dollar. Furthermore, the slowing economy complicates the contentious issue of the debt ceiling and the need for fiscal tightening. While there is no question about the market's desire to fund the U.S. fiscal gap, especially as a slowing recovery shifts investors' focus back to capital risks and increases demand for U.S. Treasuries, a worsening outlook for U.S. public finances will further dent the dollar's relative advantage as a safe-haven major.
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