More Concern

Most data of late have been weak
Thus central banks are set to tweak
Their policy rates
As they have mandates
Designed to keep growth at a peak

Now later this morning we’ll learn
If payrolls are starting to turn
Last month’s poor display
And weakness today
Would certainly cause more concern

It’s payroll day in the US and markets have been extremely quiet overnight. In fact, given yesterday’s July 4th holiday here in the US, they have been quiet for two days. However, don’t let the lack of market activity distract you from the fact that there are still a lot of things ongoing in the global economy.

For example, a key question on analysts’ minds has been whether or not a recession is in the offing. Data continues to generally disappoint, with this morning’s sharply lower German Factory Orders (-2.2%) and UK Labor Productivity (-0.5%) as the latest in a long line of crummy results. And given last month’s disappointment on the US payroll front (recall the outcome was 75K vs. the 185K expected) today’s numbers are being closely watched. Here are the current median expectations based on economist surveys:

Nonfarm Payrolls 160K
Private Payrolls 153K
Manufacturing Payrolls 0K
Unemployment Rate 3.6%
Average Hourly Earnings 0.3% (3.2% Y/Y)
Average Weekly Hours 34.4

A couple of things to note are the fact that the NFP number, even if it comes in at the median expectation, still represents a declining rate of job growth compared to what the US experienced in 2018. This is likely based on two factors; first that this historically long expansion is starting to slow down, and second, that there are less available workers to fill jobs as population growth remains restrained. The other thing to remember is that the Unemployment Report has always been a lagging indicator, looking backwards at how things were, rather than giving direction about the future. The point is that worsening of this data implies that things are already slowing. As I wrote Wednesday, don’t be surprised if when the inevitable recession finally gets determined, that it started in June 2019. I failed to mention the ADP report on Wednesday as a data release, but it, too, disappointed, printing at 102K, some 40K below expectations.

With that as our cheerful backdrop, let’s consider what to expect ahead of the release:

Weaker than expected results – If the NFP number prints at 90K or less, look for equity markets to rejoice as they perceive the Fed will become even more aggressive in their attempts to head off a recession, and the idea of a 50bp rate cut at the end of the month takes hold. Bond markets, too, will soar on the same expectations, while the dollar is likely to give up its overnight gains (granted they were only about 0.2%) as a more aggressive Fed will be seen as a signal to sell the buck. The key conundrum in this scenario remains equities, which continue to rally into weaker economic conditions. At some point, if the economy continues to weaken, the negative impact on earnings is going to outweigh the kneejerk reaction of buying when the Fed cuts, but as John Maynard Keynes reminded us all, ‘markets can stay irrational far longer than you can stay solvent.’

Results on or near expectations – If we see a print in the 120K-180K range, I would expect traders to be mildly disappointed as the call for a more aggressive Fed policy would diminish. Thus equities might suffer slightly, especially given they are sitting at record highs, while bonds are likely to see yields head back toward 2.0%. The dollar, meanwhile, is likely to maintain its overnight gains, and could well see a modest uptick as the idea of more aggressive Fed easing starts to ebb, at least for now.

Stronger than expected results – Any print above 180K will almost certainly, perversely, see a stock market selloff. It is abundantly clear that equity buyers are simply counting on Fed largesse to keep the party going. The market has nothing to do with the fundamentals of the economy or individual company situations. With this in mind, strong data means that the Fed will have no call to cut rates. The result is that the futures market will likely reprice the odds of a rate cut in July lower, perhaps to a 50% probability, while equity traders will take the news as a profit-taking opportunity given the lack of reason for a follow through higher in stocks. Bonds will get tossed overboard as well, as concerns about slowing growth will quickly abate, and a sharp move higher in 10-year yields is entirely realistic. As a point of information, the last time the payroll report was released on July 5th, in 2013, 10-year yields rallied 25bps on a surprising payroll outcome. And remember, technical indicators show that the bond market is massively overbought, so there is ample opportunity for a sharp move. And finally, because of the holiday yesterday, trading desks will have skeleton staffs, further reducing liquidity. Oh yeah, and the dollar will probably see significant gains as well.

The point is that there are two possible outcomes that could see some real fireworks (pun intended) today, so stay on your toes. While one number is just that, a single data point, given the recent trend in place, today’s data seem to have a lot of importance. If pressed, my sense is that the trend of weaker data that has been evident worldwide is going to manifest itself with something like a 50K print, and an uptick in the Unemployment Rate to 3.7% or 3.8%.

We will know shortly.

Good luck and good weekend