Investing.com — The U.S. economy posted fewer jobs than expected for a second straight month in December, but the government’s monthly report still pointed to ongoing inflationary pressures coming from the labor market.
The Labor Department said nonfarm employment rose by only 199,000 through the middle of the month. That’s only half the expected 400,000 and a sharp contrast to the 807,000 gain in private payrolls reported in ADP’s concurrent survey earlier in the week. The disappointment was only partly mitigated by an upward revision of 39,000 to November’s payrolls number.
However, there was still plenty of evidence that labor market tightness is feeding through into higher wages. Average hourly earnings rose 0.6% on the month, faster than November’s rate of 0.4%, which was also revised higher. Analysts had forecast growth of 0.4%. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell below 4% of the workforce for the first time since March 2020, and the broader U6 unemployment rate, which captures a broader range of underemployment, fell sharply to 7.3% from 7.7% a month earlier.
“There are methodological issues with the establishment survey,” said Marc Chandler, managing director of Bannockburn Global Forex via Twitter (NYSE:TWTR). “Seasonal patterns have been neutered by Covid and fewer companies (are) participating.”
Chandler suggested that the Fed is focusing more on inflation than on jobs numbers right now, and that next week’s data are likely to show another rise in inflation in December.
“The Fed is on course to hike earlier rather than later,” tweeted Societe Generale (OTC:SCGLY) Macro Strategist Kit Juckes.
U.S. stock futures reacted negatively to the news, reversing tentative gains made in the overnight session on perceptions that the data will embolden the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy more and faster than thought earlier. By 8:45 AM ET (1345 GMT), Dow Jones Futures were down 58 points, or 0.2%, while the S&P 500 Futures contract was also down 0.2% and Nasdaq 100 Futures were down 0.6%.
Other risk assets also suffered, with Bitcoin falling 4% to trade close to a four-month low of $41,206 that it hit earlier in the session.
With the exception of the headline jobs number, the report broadly corroborates the picture painted earlier this week by other economic data that showed companies struggling to retain staff despite rapidly rising labor costs. The Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey showed employees quit their jobs at a record rate in November – with analysts surmising that those that departed went mostly to higher-paid jobs elsewhere. The Institute of Supply Management’s non-manufacturing activity index, meanwhile, was skewed sharply higher by the prices subindex, which is closely correlated to labor costs.
The report also hinted at the ongoing structural labor market problems left behind by the pandemic, one of which has been the disproportionate pressure on women to drop out of the labor force due to school closures and childcare requirements (as well as the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on services, where female participation is higher than in manufacturing). Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist with Charles Schwab (NYSE:SCHW), noted that 152,000 men took jobs in the month, compared to only 66,000 women.