Economists are puzzled over the wage growth conundrum. Wages were supposed to rise significantly. They didn’t. Why?
Let’s start with a look at the conundrum expressed in a Tweet.
This is a confusing jobs report. US employers added the most workers since mid-2016, but hourly wages didn’t increase as much as analysts had expected. Bond traders are generally taking this to be positive for growth, with yields ticking up, but the inflation conundrum remains.
— Lisa Abramowicz (@lisaabramowicz1) March 9, 2018
Confused? Most economists were, especially at Econoday. I wasn’t.
There’s still no wage inflation underway but the flashpoint may be sooner than later based on unusual strength in the February employment report. Nonfarm payrolls rose an outsized 313,000 which is more than 80,000 above Econoday’s high estimate. Revisions add to the strength, at a net 54,000 for January which is now 239,000 and December which is 175,000.
Despite all this strength average hourly earnings actually came in below expectations, at only plus 0.1 percent with the year-on-year 3 tenths under the consensus at 2.6 percent. But given how strong demand is for labor, policy makers at the Federal Reserve may not want to risk runaway wage gains as employers try increasingly to attract candidates.
The workweek further points to strength, up 1 tenth to an average 34.5 hours for all employees with the prior month revised 1 tenth higher to 34.4 hours (the private sector workweek rose 2 tenths to 38.8 hours with manufacturing also up 2 tenths to 41.0 hours in a gain that points to strength for next week’s industrial production report).
The unemployment rate held at a very low 4.1 percent as discouraged workers flocked into the jobs market. The labor participation rate is another major headline, up 3 tenths to 63.0 percent and again well beyond high-end expectations.
The sheer strength of the hiring in this report would appear certain to raise expectations for four rate hikes this year as Fed policy makers may begin to grow impatient with their efforts to cool demand.