MORNING BID – What’s all the Yellen about?

July 15, 2014

Rants from TV commentators aside, the market’s going to be keenly focused on Janet Yellen’s congressional testimony today, with a specific eye toward whether the Fed chair moderates her concerns about joblessness, under-employment and the overall dynamism of the labor force that has been left somewhat wanting in this recovery. The June jobs report, where payrolls grew by 288,000, was welcome news even as the economy continues to suffer due to low labor-force participation and weak wage growth.

Inflation figures are starting to show some sense of firming in various areas, for sure, but still not at a point that argues for a sharp move in Fed rates just yet. Overall, a look at Eurodollar futures still suggests the market sees a gradual, very slow uptick in overall rates – the current difference between the June 2015 futures and June 2016 futures are less than a full percentage point – not as low as it was in May of this year, but still lower than peaks seen in March and April 2014 and in the third quarter of 2013, before a run of weak economic figures and comments from Fed officials themselves scared people again into thinking that the markets would never end up seeing another rate hike, like, ever again.

Now the expectations for Fed moves have coalesced around late in the first half of 2015 for at least the first token rate rises, and it might even be a bit sooner depending on what happens with employment and inflation figures. On this front, Liz Ann Sonders of Charles Schwab points out that some of the leading and coincident indicators for the labor market look promising – noting that the jobless rate overall and the payroll figures are lagging indicators.

She points out that private-sector employment is up 9 percent since the end of the recession, outpacing the economy’s overall 5.9 percent growth rate – and that’s clearly due to a lot of local and state government austerity that was forced upon municipalities and other localities due to diving tax revenues and weak growth. Government employment didn’t finally trough until mid-2013, and has since started to come up a bit more, but it’s still down 3 percent from the end of the recession; the gains in private employment don’t completely obviate whatever need there is for government jobs and services – particularly if federal and state employment tends to be middle-class labor.

Job quits and layoffs figures are improving.

Job quits and layoffs figures are improving.

Other factors pointing to strength – the improvement in the JOLTS data, the job openings labor turnover survey, which shows job openings rising to levels consistent with the 2007 area – still not at the same level as it was in 2001 during the end of the tech boom, but much better than what’s been happening of late.

The “quit rate” also measured by JOLTS points to more people voluntarily leaving jobs – again, the 2.1 percent rate for private payrolls falls short of the 2.5 to 2.6 percent level during the end of the last boom and far from the 2.8-2.9 percent level back in 2001 – but it’s important enough that Yellen may modify some of her language. Given she’s learned pretty quickly to try to bore people to death after the “six months” remark that set people off, those looking for lots of news may be disappointed. But if there is to be any, it could be here.

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