How Investors Should Be Handicapping Friday’s Jobs Report

 

NEW YORK (Real Money) -- While no one expects the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates during its June 17 meeting, this week's data will go a long way in shaping Fed policy and thus the bond market action for the next couple months.

Obviously, the big release will be Friday's job report. Bloomberg's survey is calling for gains of 227,000. Guessing any one month's figure is a fool's game, but I think the market is set up for the number to be a little low. In other words, a 50,000 miss to the downside would not result in a huge rally, but a 50,000 beat would result in a significant selloff. A 275,000 figure would shift the market view from "first-quarter weakness wasn't just about weather" to "Looks like we are going to repeat last summer's job gains."

I say this because of where such a change would put the trajectory of unemployment. Right now, the market has priced in a 30% chance of a September hike and an almost 100% chance of a hike by December. Say the actual job gain figure is a 50,000 miss (i.e., 177,000), and we keep gaining at that level through year-end. By the end of 2015, Unemployment would be 5.15%, which is still very close to the Fed's estimation of full employment (estimated at between 5.2% and 5.0%). Under that scenario, I still think the Fed is highly likely to hike in December.

Now let's say there is a 50,000 beat (+277,000) and job gains continue at that level. In that case, unemployment would be at an estimated 4.9% in September and 4.6% in December. If that played out, I'd have to consider the possibility of two hikes in 2015, which currently isn't priced in at all.

This is why I'm thinking that the market is more vulnerable to a beat on jobs than a miss.

Potentially even more impactful could be the average hourly earnings figure, which is perhaps the most popular measure of wage growth. The inflation-adjusted number was at 2.2%, year over year, last month. It will likely wind up right around there this month, but if it were to come in at about 2.4%, that would be a big deal. Realistically, though, that probably won't happen. The single-month figure would need to come in +0.46%. There have been a few prints around that level in the last few years, but it would definitely be on the high side. It's worth noting that, year to date, wages are growing at a 3.1% annualized pace. So even though I don't think this particular release is likely to be eye-popping, I believe wages are accelerating a bit.

On Wednesday's ISM non-manufacturing survey, there is plenty to watch. But pay particular attention to the export orders figure. If that were to rebound from 48.5 to something above 50, it would match the manufacturing survey from Monday, suggesting that export weakness is abating.

Lastly, don't ignore Thursday's releases. While unit labor costs and nonfarm productivity aren't particularly favored by traders, they are closely watched in academia. Lest you forget, the FOMC is full of former academics! Poor productivity and high unit labor costs will worry the Fed considerably, and certainly if I saw labor costs at 6% (which is the survey) plus 250,000 or more job gains, the pressure would really be on the Fed.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published at 3 p.m. EDT on Real Money Pro on June 2.

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