The US stock market has taken a hit lately, presumably because various geopolitical and macro risks around the world are starting to resonate with formerly complacent investors who have been inclined to drive American equities higher in recent history no matter the headlines du jour. But to the extent that the worries are focused on the US economy, the worst fears still look overblown. Or so this week’s updates on the labor market suggest, including today’s encouraging numbers on initial jobless claims for the week through September 27.
New filings for unemployment benefits last week dropped 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 287,000, or close to the lowest level since 2000. (The 279,000 claims for week through July 19, 2014 currently holds the record for the lowest number of jobless claims in 14 years). Today’s news follows yesterday’s upbeat report on private-sector payrolls via ADP’s estimate. In short, the latest figures suggest that the economy is still minting new jobs at a moderate and steady rate.
Today’s claims data certainly reflects a healthy trend. Indeed, the four-week average (dotted red line in chart below) is again moving lower. More importantly, the year-over-year change in claims continues to fall at a robust pace. The latest update shows claims sliding 9.7% last week vs. a year ago.
Positive momentum in the labor market appears to be intact, according to this week’s releases… so far. In turn, the updates suggest that the surprisingly soft payrolls report for August was a temporary stumble. As a result, it’s reasonable to assume that tomorrow’s jobs report from the Labor Department will confirm that view. In fact, the crowd’s expecting a substantially stronger set of numbers for September’s payrolls. Econoday.com’s consensus forecast sees private-sector employment rising by 215,000 for last month, a dramatically higher number vs. August’s tepid 134,000 increase.
“The low level of layoffs indicates demand for workers is solid,” an economist at RBS Securities tells Bloomberg. “The economy in incrementally improving and employers want to hold on to workers and potentially add more,” says Guy Berger.
Yes, there’s still plenty to worry about, and so one can argue that the US equity market is still moderately over-valued for the world we live in. Meantime, US business cycle risk remains relatively low and so it would be surprising if tomorrow’s jobs report tells us otherwise.