The disappointing jobs report for September released Friday diminishes but doesn’t entirely eliminate the chance of a Federal Reserve interest-rate increase at its Dec. 15-16 policy meeting, economists said. While the data all but rule out a move this month, a December rate hike remains a live, albeit less-likely, option, they said.
Policy makers will get a lot more information about the economy, including two more payrolls reports, before the December meeting. With 13 of 17 Fed officials predicting 2015 liftoff in their latest forecasts, they will be loath to abandon their plans for their first rate increase since 2006 just yet.
“The Fed will not throw in the towel on this year,” said Roberto Perli, former Fed economist who is now a partner at Cornerstone Macro LLC in Washington. “The rhetoric will keep the possibility on the table.” He has been forecasting a December rise and said “it is premature” to push that back.
Payrolls rose less than projected in September, wages stagnated and the jobless rate was unchanged as people left the workforce, signaling the global slowdown and financial-market turmoil are rippling through the world’s largest economy.
“This is a uniformly disappointing report. There’s a lot of bad news here,” said Nariman Behravesh, Lexington, Massachusetts-based chief economist for IHS Inc. “Companies are retreating back into their shells a bit.”
Economists at BNP Paribas SA in New York said they pushed out their call for a Fed rate increase to March from December after the employment report. They said in a note to clients that they’re concerned the data reflect “something more worrying about the underlying health of the U.S. economy, but at this point it is a bit too early to tell.”
Behravesh said that in retrospect, Fed Chair Janet Yellen and her colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee “look awfully smart for having held their fire in September” and not raised rates as some economists predicted they would.
Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York, said he doesn’t think Friday’s jobs report “necessarily takes the Fed off track for December.” While the jobless rate held steady at 5.1 percent last month, a broader measure of underemployment in the economy fell, he noted.
The underemployment rate — which includes part-time workers who would prefer a full-time position and people who want to work but have given up looking — dropped to 10 percent, the lowest since May 2008, from 10.3 percent.
Fed policy makers face a dilemma in deciding whether to go ahead with a rate increase this year. The jobless rate is near levels that most Fed policy makers reckon is equivalent to full employment. And payrolls growth — while much slower than before — is still faster than necessary to keep pushing the unemployment rate down.
John Williams, the San Francisco Fed president and a policy voter this year, told reporters Thursday in Salt Lake City that monthly payroll increases “above 100,000, or 150,000, would be good to me.”
Feroli said the job market may be decelerating after an extended stretch in which payroll growth outpaced that of the overall economy.
At the same time, Cornerstone’s Perli said, policy makers will want to make sure that the disappointing labor data is not a sign of something more fundamentally wrong with the economy.
“The Fed’s natural inclination would be to wait,” he said. “This could be a sign of a weakening economy or it could be a sign of a soft patch that you want to look through.”
What could also give the Fed pause is the possibility of a government shutdown later this year, Behravesh said.
“The odds of liftoff in October were already very low, and I think this report lowers them further,” said Jonathan Wright, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a former economist at the central bank’s Division of Monetary Affairs. “But this is just one of many pieces of information coming in before the December meeting."
“I don’t think it has a big effect on the FOMC,” he added.
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