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This week gave us two big pieces of financial news.
First, after wrapping up at their two-day meeting in Thursday, federal officials announced that they would not raise interest rates and signaled that they would pause further increases in the light of recent financial market turbulence, signs of trouble with global growth, and relatively poorer inflation. The shift eased investors and sent stocks like rockets higher.
So on Friday, the Department of Labor delivered an unexpectedly strong job report. Employers add 304,000 workers in their wages in January, compared to the 170,000 fortune-teas tracked by economists surveyed by Dow Jones. Companies seem to have subsided most in the winter's summit. In fact, the numbers showed that hiring has sprung up after a leaf in the summer and early fall. The economy managed an average of 241,000 jobs over each of the last three months, compared to a total monthly average of 205,000 since the beginning of 2017.
One way to look at these two news is that the Fed has been worried about nothing and that it can safely return to hiking as before. As Politico's Ben White said it:
If anything, but I would say the opposite, it is true. That employers can still find hundreds of thousands of people renting each month suggests that even in an economy that seems quite warm, there are still many Americans who want or need jobs. The Fed has the right to breathe before trying to cool the economy to prevent inflation.
Over the years following the great recession, the Federal Reserve has consistently underestimated how much "slack" remains on the labor market – essentially how far unemployment can fall before employers have to start paying significantly higher salaries to hire, which can lead to that inflation is recovering. An important reason why the Fed economists have traditionally looked at the official unemployment as a guide to the state of the economy. Surplus unemployment has gone down to historical downturns, which at one time could have meant that almost everyone who really wanted a job had one. But today, the statistics no longer seem to reflect how many Americans will work if they can find the right opportunity or just want hours. As a result, more adults have been consistently ready to take a job than our central banks realized. Fed officials continue to think they're about to run out of slack – and inflation will surely pick up just to find they have more rope in the economy.
In particular, no one has been a stronger critic of Fed's excessive hawkishness than our president, Donald Trump. He may not understand the nuances, and is probably worried mostly about keeping the economy warm, so his polling values stay out of his thirties, but he has been uncharacteristically aware of Fed's unnecessary tightening. (His inability to pick Fed officials who are the views he actually agrees with).
Today's gigantic job report does not tell us that the labor market will have more slack in the future. But again, it confirms that Fed officials have been too pessimistic earlier about how much space the labor market has had to grow. Meanwhile, many data points, such as the proportion of Americans in their primary working years employed and how quickly employers increase payroll, signal that the country still has a long time to go before employers have to worry about something resembling a labor shortage. Overall, it suggests that our monetary policy makers have the right to sit back, stop trying so hard to sniff out inflation before it flares up, and let the companies keep their employment announcements. Good work numbers, like today's ones, are a hint that the economy can be even better.
Or in other words, they show that Donald Trump has been kind to the Fed.