The pace of employment growth at US companies bounced back sharply in June after slumping to a five-year low in May, the Labor Department reports. The gain, which beat expectations by a wide margin, suggests that the economy is stronger than the May release implied. But note that the year-over-year gain in private payrolls, although fractionally higher, is essentially unchanged from May, holding close to a three-year low. In sum, there’s still no smoking gun for arguing that the US slipped into a new NBER-defined recession, but the weak numbers from other corners of the economy—industrial production, for instance—continue to raise questions about the outlook for this year’s second half.
The first half, by contrast, ended on a high note, based on today’s payrolls release. The 265,000 increase in private-sector jobs in June is the biggest monthly gain since last December. “If you take the last three months and smooth these numbers out — which is really what you should do — employment conditions are improving, but there’s no question there’s, to some extent, a slowdown in the improvement,” says Hugh Johnson, chairman at Hugh Johnson Advisors, via Bloomberg.
Let’s put Johnson’s advice to work in the chart below, which clearly shows that job growth in the private sector has decelerated steadily over the past year or so. The trend eased to just a hair below 2.0% for the year through June, based on three-month averaging–the lowest in three years. A 2% pace is still a respectable advance, but recent history suggests we’ll see even lower growth rates in the months ahead.
The key question: will the deceleration slide below the previous low of roughly 1.86% in April 2014? The last time job growth was decelerating, the slide reversed before the macro trend suffered serious damage. Will history repeat? Or has the expansion run out of road? This year’s second half will probably provide the answer.
But the crowd’s in no mood for worrying today. Instead, all eyes are focusing on the monthly change, even though it’s a noisy number that is capable of wide swings from month to month, as the sharp contrast between May and June remind. But the stock market doesn’t mind, at least not this morning. As I write, S&P futures are up sharply and you can almost hear a collective sigh of relief.
“This report should ease any fears that a persistent slowdown or recession is coming soon in the US,” says Dean Maki, chief economist at Point72 Asset Management.
An aging recovery, in short, is a concern for another day.