Week Ahead: Strong Jobs Report leaves Fed in a Pickle


The stronger than expected jobs report leaves the Fed in a pickle. The economy added 203,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate decreased to a five-year low of 7 percent from 7.3 percent. You may recall that soon-to-be-departed Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said that when the data indicated that the economy in general – and the labor specifically – was showing progress, the Fed would take its pedal off the gas and reduce its monthly bond purchases, known as Quantitative Easing or “QE3”. The Fed launched QE3 in September 2012. Since then, the unemployment rate has dropped from 8.1 percent to 7 percent and the economy has added over 2.8 million jobs, or an average of nearly 190,000 per month. That sounds pretty good, except when you consider that it’s only about 10,000 per month more than before the introduction of the program.

Still, there is evidence that the pace of job creation is picking up. Over the past four months, the average monthly gain has been over 200,000 after a late spring/summer slow down. Additionally, the November jobs report showed broad-based gains in a variety of sectors, with manufacturing, construction, education, health and retail all demonstrating improvement. Independent research firm Capital Economics believes that the Fed has “all the evidence it needs to begin tapering its asset purchases at the next FOMC meeting later this month.”

Not so fast, says Jon Hilsenrath in the Wall Street Journal. He notes that the drop in rate was driven by a reversal of some of the shutdown-related increase the month before. “A meager 83,000 people became employed between September and November, while the number not in the labor force during that stretch rose by 664,000. The jobless rate fell…because people stopped looking for jobs and removed themselves from the ranks of people counted as unemployed.”

Indeed, the labor force participation rate (the number of people employed or actively seeking a job) remains at near 36-year lows. Oh, and there are still 10.9 million Americans are out of work, of which more than 4 million have been unemployed for more than six months; total payroll employment (136.8 million) is still short of the January 2008 peak of 138.1 million workers; and while an unemployment rate of 7 percent seems good compared to the recession high of 10 percent, it seems miles away from the 4.7 percent rate seen six years ago in November 2007, the month before the recession officially started.

In other words, if the Fed wants to punt on unwinding QE3 at the December 17-18 policy meeting, it could easily find a way to do so. With unemployment still a good distance above the Fed’s 6.5 percent threshold, it is unlikely to raise short-term interest rates until next year.

Volcker Rule: On Tuesday, regulators are expected to approve the "Volcker Rule," named after former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker. The rule is one of the most controversial parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul because it seeks to stop banks with federally insured deposits from making trades and putting their own capital at risk, in pursuit of speculative trading profits. But as noted in the Financial Times, “after three years of lobbying, wrangling and debating over the rule, there is the potential for a depressingly messy execution…The desire for a rule specific enough to turn grey into black and white risks turning Volcker into a 1,000-page horror.”

MARKETS: Good news was finally good news on Friday, which saved stock investors from steeper losses. Still, it was the first losing weekly decline in nine weeks for the Dow and S&P 500. According to John Linehan, Head of U.S. Equity at T. Rowe Price, this bull market has lasted for 57 months so far, which is the average length of bull markets since 1930.

  • DJIA: 16,020, down 0.4% on week, up 22.2% on year
  • S&P 500: 1805, down 0.04% on week, up 26.5% on year
  • NASDAQ: 4,062, up 0.06% on week, up 34.5% on year
  • 10-Year Treasury yield: 2.88% (from 2.75% a week ago)
  • Jan Crude Oil: $97.65, up 5.3% on week
  • Feb Gold: $1229, down 1.6% on week (5-month low)
  • AAA Nat'l average price for gallon of regular Gas: $3.26


Mon 12/9:

Tues 12/10:

7:30 NFIB Small Bus Confidence

10:00 Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLTS)

10:00 Wholesale Trade

Volcker Rule vote

Weds 12/11:

Thurs 12/12:

8:30 Jobless Claims

8:30 Nov Retail Sales

10:00 Business Inventories

Fri 12/13

8:30 PPI