Welcome to the volatile markets of 2019.
One day, the world’s biggest tech company, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), warns about a big slowdown in the world’s hottest economy, China. The whole market freaks out, and stocks drop over 2%. The next day, the world’s largest economy, the U.S., reports a stellar December jobs report. The whole market celebrates, and stocks rally over 3%.
Up big. Down big. Such volatility has become the norm for financial markets over the past several months.
But, the December jobs report was arguably strong enough to inject some stability and confidence back into financial markets. Specifically, the jobs report was strong everywhere it matters, from job growth to wage growth to unemployment, and everything in between. In conjunction with strong holiday sales, the report essentially confirms that the U.S. economy is not on the brink of a recession.
As recession fears cool off, stocks should rise.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what actually made the December jobs report so good, and why markets are celebrating it in such a big way.
312,000 New Jobs
Non-farm payroll additions is the headline number of every jobs report. In the December jobs report, that headline number was especially important considering fears of a coming recession.
But, headline non-farm payroll additions came in well ahead of expectations, with the U.S. economy adding 312,000 new jobs in December, versus expectations for 177,000 net adds. Moreover, the 312,000 jobs added in December is the most non-farm payroll additions since February 2018, and well ahead of the 2018 monthly average of about 220,000.
Indeed, the headline non-farm payroll additions number was so strong that it has, for the time being, quelled recession fears. The broad implication is that an economy adding 300,000 jobs a month isn’t on the verge of a recession.
3.9% Unemployment Rate
The other big number that everyone watches in every jobs report is the unemployment rate. In the December jobs report, the unemployment rate came in at 3.9%, which was ahead of expectations and above last month’s rate, both of which were 3.7%.
That isn’t great news. But, it’s a small and natural bump up from what was an unusually low 3.7% unemployment rate. The bump up can also be attributed to certain one-offs, such as the bankruptcy of Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD). Nonetheless, it wasn’t a meaningful bump up. At 3.9%, the unemployment rate is simply where it has been for roughly all of 2018.
Broadly speaking, this low unemployment confirms that the U.S. economy still has considerable forward momentum, and that recession fears are premature at this point in time.
3.2% Wage Growth
Robust job growth and low unemployment have been constants about the U.S. economy for some time. One thing that has not been constant is wage growth.
Americans are finally getting a raise. In December, average hourly earnings rose 3.2%. That was ahead of expectations for a 3% rise, it’s also above above last month’s 3.1% rise and it’s the strongest wage gain in nearly a decade. Moreover, the 3.2% gain comes on the heels of core CPI and PCE inflation readings of right around 2%. Thus, the pick-up in wages isn’t from inflation. We are finally seeing real wage growth.
This is a big positive. The more Americans that are working, and the more money they make in real terms, the healthier America’s consumer-driven economy will be. We saw that this holiday season (record holiday sales), and will likely continue to see it for the foreseeable future.
63.1% Labor Participation Rate
None of the above numbers matter unless there is substantial volume behind recent labor market strength. Fortunately, the December jobs report confirmed that not only is there volume behind the strength, but that volume is going up.
The labor participation rate in the U.S. economy hit 63.1% in December. That is up 20 basis points from the 62.9% participation rates in October and November, and is the strongest reading in all of 2018.
In other words, the U.S. economy exited 2018 with not only robust job and wage growth and a low unemployment rate, but also with a multi-quarter high participation rate. That speaks to just how strong the U.S. economy really is today, and helps quell looming recession fears.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long AAPL.