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The US labor market cooled in August, raising hopes that the Federal Reserve is successfully planning a soft landing for the world’s largest economy.
As Friday’s data showed an increase in the unemployment rate, job growth and wage growth rebounding to pre-Covid rates, investors hailed a potential Goldilocks situation that is coming under control rather than triggering a recession.
“If the Fed had put together their best employment report, it would look like today,” said Citi economist Andrew Hollenhorst.
But he added: “We have to be careful looking at a month’s worth of data and saying we’re all in the clear.”
Most investors already expected the central bank to keep rates steady at its next meeting in late September.
But following Friday’s data release, futures markets cut the probability of a rate hike at the next November meeting from below 50 percent to around 40 percent.
Investors and policymakers are closely watching for signs that the U.S. labor market is cooling, as jobs and wage growth are key contributors to inflation.
Reacting to the figures on Friday, US President Joe Biden pushed back at “experts” who argued that more drastic contraction was needed to bring inflation under control.
Instead, he said his administration had managed “months of lower inflation while increasing jobs and wages.”
Labor statistics data showed unemployment rose to 3.8 percent last month, compared with economists’ forecasts that it would hold steady at 3.5 percent for decades.
The 0.2 percent monthly wage growth was lower than forecast, although the year-on-year growth rate of 4.3 percent was above levels consistent with the central bank’s 2 percent inflation target.
The economy created 187,000 new non-farm jobs in August — above forecasts for 170,000, but below the 200,000 mark for the third consecutive month.
The totals for the previous two months were revised down by a cumulative 110,000.
Wage and unemployment trends were helped by more people returning to the workforce, with the first increase in the labor force participation rate since February. Such an increase in labor supply will also help slow wage growth.
Natixis portfolio manager Jack Janasiewicz said the continued “pushing of people into the jobs market” would “generally put downward pressure on wages”.
Friday’s figures followed separate data released this week that suggested slacker labor demand, with the number of job vacancies falling more than expected.
“The report shows that the labor market is realigning in a good way — an increase in labor force participation is what we want to see,” said Sonal Desai, chief investment officer for Franklin Templeton Fixed Income.
“A rate hike in September is now highly unlikely, but it is too early to say that all rate hikes are off the table.”
But other economists expressed fears that the central bank would squeeze the economy too much.
“Until we talk about the possibility of a Fed hike, the odds of a hard landing continue to grow,” said Priya Misra, portfolio manager at JP Morgan Asset Management.
“Keeping their options alive means that there will be constrained real rates,” he added, referring to the impact of expectations on real borrowing costs.
In his annual speech at the Fed’s economic conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming last week, Fed Chairman Jay Powell insisted the Fed was “ready to raise rates further if appropriate,” but said they would remain cautious as policymakers try to control inflation. Minimizes damage to the wider economy.
Stock and bond prices initially rose after the data was released, but gave up their early gains. The S&P 500 moved into negative territory by midday in New York.
Additional reporting by Jennifer Hughes in New York
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