NFP miss: does it mean anything?

Indices

US jobs growth cooled with just 226k created in April, well below the 1m+ expected. The blowout number from March was also revised lower by 146k to 770k. Wages rose more than expected.

What does it tell us, if anything?

1) Don’t read too much into this print – the US economy is by most measures booming. Payrolls are a lagging indicator and at the mercy of a huge number of factors. Payrolls can sometimes produce a monthly print way off the reservation. Moreover, +266k is a good number in normal circumstances and the country is still in the throes of the pandemic – expectations might have gotten a little elevated for this number (guilty). Too much hype maybe a factor here in some of these market moves on the announcement – the narrative doesn’t really change IMHO.

2) If slower employment growth is something to consider, then it will simply keep the Fed easier for longer. This was reflected in the surge in tech/growth and a reversal of the reflation trade (ie Dow lower, NDX higher) in the futures market. Overall, this ought to be a net positive for risk assets like stocks, albeit it may create yet more churn and rotation, which makes it messier. As per point one, however, this print does not mean that suddenly WFH stocks are about to suddenly get out of their funk, or FAANGS are more attractive than they were yesterday. Similarly, it does mean that the reflation trades are less appealing. If anything, it simply has created a more useful entry point for some – as can be seen by the fading of the initial kneejerk on the Dow and elsewhere.

Chart showing USA 30 index response to NFP release May 7th 2021.

3) There has been some evidence that poorer folks are better off than they were thanks to stimulus cheques. These won’t last forever, but there is an argument that ongoing government support create a moral hazard around incentivising people back into work post-pandemic. A question that does need to be asked by the Fed and Treasury is how their policies are going to improve productivity and generate real employment gains.

4) Even if yields and the value/cyclical equity market plays recover – as they seem to be doing in the first half hour of trading on Wall Street today – the print does not do an awful lot for USD. Bonds were bid, and yields moved sharply lower, with the 10yr down under 1.5% in short order. The sharp move lower in yields lifted gold and sent the US dollar lower to breach the late April low and snap the rising trendline. If we can use this print as anything to go by, then it means the Fed is inching further away from a taper than the ECB which ought to be supportive for a long-awaited EURUSD rally to 1.25.

Yields response to NFP release May 7th 2021.

5) Rising wages underscore a sense that employers are struggling to find workers. Lower paid jobs that were lost in the pandemic are coming back, but they may not be as low paid as they used to be. This suggests further upside pressure on inflation over the coming months as businesses seek to attract staff. The problem for the Fed becomes this: if inflation picks up and employment does not recover quickly enough, its’ current policy stance will be questioned and the bond market will start to flex its muscles.