US companies added new jobs at a slightly lower rate than expected in September, according to this morning’s update form the Labor Department. Private payrolls increased by 167,000 last month, a touch below the consensus forecast. The moderate increase is below the 192,000 average gain for the past year, which suggests that today’s release will leave the crowd guessing about the timing of the next interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve. But while the latest report reflects a moderate increase at best, the year-over-year gain for private payrolls held steady at a healthy 1.9% rate for the fifth month in a row.
On a monthly basis, September’s advance marks an improvement over August’s revised gain of 144,000, the smallest increase since the incremental decline in the workforce in May. The monthly comparisons have been unusually noisy this year, but the steady annual increase at roughly 1.9% over the last five months suggests that the labor market is settling into a slower-but-still-healthy rate of growth.
Yesterday’s update on jobless claims certainly supports the case for expecting job growth to roll on. New applications for unemployment benefits fell last week and the unadjusted year-over-year change fell more than 10% for the first time since July. The message in this leading indicator: payrolls will continue to expand.
Although it’s encouraging to see the year-over-year trend in private payrolls holding steady at a respectable 1.9% rate, it’s clear that the peak has passed for job growth, which is a nearly 2.6% annual pace as of February 2015. It’s unlikely that growth will return to that rate until after the next recession.
The good news is that the next recession remains a low-probability event for the near-term horizon. That was true last month, as discussed here, and today’s employment report doesn’t alter the moderately upbeat outlook for the US macro trend. It’s unclear if this amounts to compelling evidence for the Federal Reserve on the subject of tightening monetary policy at next month’s FOMC meeting. But for the moment, US business cycle risk remains low.
The next opportunity for an attitude adjustment: the retail sales report for September, which is schedule for next Friday.