The Labor Department posts an employment report every month, and people look at it as a ladder rung up or down on the "wall of worry" over where the fragile economic and housing's recovery is headed.
Bottom line, as these things go, fear is bad and greed is good.
Today's has more freight than usual. Among the people who "look at it as a ladder rung up or down" are the U.S. Federal Reserve governors, who, it's known, have an agenda item for their Sept. 16-17 meeting that may tie directly to today's report.
The economy added 173,000 jobs to payrolls in the month of August. This fell short of the level Wall Street's "consensus" of economists expected. The higher range of the consensus may have worked as a harbinger of a Fed belief that it's time to lift borrowing costs. Having come in at the "under" level of the over-under range, may equally be a signal to the Fed that raising rates would put a damper on an economy still trying to find solid footing in an uncertain international economic context.
Here's the Labor Department top line, focusing on payroll additions and the unemployment rate, which fell.
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 173,000 in August, and the unemployment rate edged down to 5.1 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job gains occurred in health care and social assistance and in financial activities. Manufacturing and mining lost jobs.....In August, the unemployment rate edged down to 5.1 percent, and the number of unemployed persons edged down to 8.0 million.
What this means in reality is the subject of a lot of speculation. "Five things to watch" and "previews" foretell a queasy reaction among Wall Street traders. They are America's metaphor for impulsive, over-reaction, often to mixed indicators. But with a slow-down playing out in China's economy and an iffy scenario shaping up in the eurozone, a Labor Department jobs report takes on "lightning rod" status for people whose jobs are to bet on the direction as well as the trajectory of corporate profit capability.
What it means to home builders, one can only shrug and guess that there'll be an immediate impulsive interpretation, a medium-term effect, and an ultimate impact, none of the three of which may have to do with one another. Likely, for large companies in the home building and development ecosystem, including investors, materials suppliers, and manufacturers, upward pressure on borrowing costs may precipitate the next slew in what many consider to be an inevitable series of consolidation moves. As local as real estate is, the industry serving it on the horizontal and vertical development and construction side of the equation is becoming a smaller, more finite world of fewer bigger players.
All of this is tangential to those who spend two of every three dollars in the United States' $18 trillion economy, American consumers. New Strategist Press editorial director Cheryl Russell notes that an important shift in that spending came to light with the release of Consumer Expenditure Survey data for 2014.
The average household spent $53,495 in 2014—3 percent more than in 2013, after adjusting for inflation. This is good news and it may signal an energized economy.
Now, I don't know how many of you know demographers, but Russell's commentary on household spending counts as an effusive display of emotion for one. Household spending, you see, is a glacial blob, and it's had downward pressure on it since its peak in 2006. Importantly, the drill-down shows an increase in discretionary spending, on apparel, for instance. That kind of data-point signifies wholly new behavior, which could be a tip off to how two-thirds of the American economy sees its way out of the prior gloom and doldrums.
Still, New York Times columnist Neil Irwin cautions that the fact that wage gains--despite payroll jobs momentum for the past three years--have been hard to come by for a number of reasons, continues to be an economic bottle-neck. Irwin writes:
Average hourly earnings for all private-sector workers were up 2.1 percent in July from a year earlier, roughly the same level at which wage growth has been for years. There has been no evidence of acceleration in pay as the year has progressed; in the last three months hourly pay rose at a 1.6 annual rate, well below its level earlier in the year. Other data points to the same conclusion. Employment compensation costs — which includes both wages and the employer’s cost of health care and other benefits — rose 2 percent in the year ended in June, in line with recent years.
So, the Fed won't be looking at wage inflation in their assessment of the labor market's recovery. And an even bigger implication may trace again to the consumer, who's household spending may continue to be constrained, not just by the lack of an increase in monthly payment power, but by a psychology of suppressed expectations.
If we look back to Labor Day eves 36 or 48 or 60 months ago, jobs themselves were going to be enough for another upward rung on the ladder of the wall of worry. More jobs, 173,000 by today's count, and likely to be upwardly revised, may have to be what we settle for and be thankful.