The jobs numbers will factor into a complicated calculation for the Fed.
American employers are gradually slowing their hiring and wage gains are moderating from a very rapid pace, good signs for the Federal Reserve as it tries to engineer an economic cool-down that will allow price inflation to return to a more normal speed.
The March employment report offered a picture of a labor market that is gently decelerating, a sign of the kind of soft economic landing that the Fed has been shooting for. But it came at a complicated juncture for the central bank, because a series of high-profile bank blowups last month could shift the economic situation in months ahead.
Policymakers are carefully watching how banks, investors and other lenders react to the turmoil. If they pull back sharply and credit becomes more difficult and expensive to access, that could slow consumer spending and business expansions. The Fed has been raising interest rates since last March to tamp down a hot economy, but the banking fallout could do some of the Fed’s work for it. If the reaction is intense enough, it could even increase the chances of a bad recession.
Fed officials raised rates at their March 22 meeting and forecast that they may raise them one more time this year. But Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, underlined that the central bank could do more or less depending on the severity of the fallout. For now, officials are waiting to see what happens.
“While this rearview mirror snapshot points to a soft landing of the U.S. economy, the landing strip ahead is narrow and short,” Gregory Daco, chief economist at the consulting firm EY-Parthenon, wrote in a note following the release. He thought that the report would keep the Fed “on track” for one more quarter-point rate increase before it stops adjusting policy.
The Fed will announce its next rate decision on May 3.
While the Fed will have to watch lending conditions in addition to economic data, Friday’s numbers may give it slightly more confidence that the labor market is headed in the direction it had hoped.
Average hourly earnings growth pulled back to 4.2 percent in the year through March, down from 4.6 percent the previous month and the slowest pace since June 2021. While that is still an unusually rapid pace of growth, the pace of wage gains has been slowing — good news for Fed policymakers.
While central bankers typically embrace solid pay increases, wages had been climbing so quickly that many worried it would make it difficult to slow inflation down fully. When employers are paying more, they are likely to try to charge more to cover those climbing labor costs. And when households are earning more, they may be able to absorb price increases without pulling back on spending.
The fresh wage data should signal to the Fed “that the kindling for future inflation is dwindling,” Omair Sharif, founder of Inflation Insights, wrote in note reacting to the report.
And while employers are still hiring at a rapid clip compared to prepandemic norms, that is happening as workers re-enter the labor market. That is increasing labor supply, which could help to alleviate worker shortages and take pressure off the labor market.
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