Two high-frequency economic reports stand out in the week ahead: The US November employment report and the preliminary eurozone CPI. The Federal Reserve has deftly distanced itself from any one employment report. As a result, it would take a significant miss of the median forecast (Bloomberg survey) to alter market expectations for a 50 bp hike when the FOMC meeting concludes on December 14.
Economists are looking for around a 200k increase in US non-farm payrolls after 261k in October. In the first ten months of the year, the US has created 4.07 mln jobs. This is down from 5.51 mln in the Jan-Oct period last week but a strong performance by nearly any other comparison. In the same period before the pandemic, the US created about 1.52 mln jobs. Non-farm payrolls rose by an average of 150k in 2018 and 2019. It is averaging more than twice that now.
Average hourly earnings have increased in importance now with greater sensitivity to inflation and fears among policymakers that it could get embedded into wage expectations. The year-over-year increase in average hourly earnings peaked in March (when the Fed began hiking rates) at 5.6%. It has fallen or been unchanged since and fell to 4.7% in October. Economists expect the pace to have slowed to 4.6%. The 4% rate, seen as more consistent with the Fed's goals, assumes 2% productivity, which has been difficult to sustain outside crises (around the Great Financial Crisis and Covid) since the middle of 2004.
The ECB is a different kettle of fish. Nearly all the voting members at the Fed that have spoken, including the leading hawks, seem to accept a downshifting from 75 bp to 50 bp. However, at the ECB, there appears to be a genuine debate. It hiked rates by 75 bp at the last two meetings after starting the normalization process with a half-point move in July. As a result, the month-over-month headline inflation surged by 1.2% in September and 1.5% in October. The year-over-year rate stood at 10.7% in October, 300 bp above the US. On the other hand, core inflation was 5% above a year ago in the eurozone compared with 6.3% in the US. The median forecast in Bloomberg's survey sees the headline rate easing to 10.4%, with the core rate unchanged.
This is leading some, like the Austrian central bank governor Holzmann to suggest that unless there is a sharp fall in the November report, he would be inclined to support another 75 bp hike when the ECB meets on December 15. The preliminary estimate of November CPI will be released on November 30, but the final reading will not be available until the day after the ECB's meeting. That said, revisions tend to be minor. While Holzmann is perceived to be one of the more hawkish members of the ECB, the more dovish contingent seems to be pushing for a slowing the pace to 50 bp. It is a bit too simple to make it into a North-South dispute. The ECB's chief economist, Lane, from Ireland, is in the 50-bp camp. The swaps market sees a little more than a 30% chance of a 75 bp hike next month. Countering the elevated price pressures is recognizing that the eurozone is slipping into a recession. Still, officials say it will likely be short and shallow, arguably giving them more latitude to adjust rates.
To be sure, the US also reports inflation. The Fed's targeted measure, the PCE deflator for October, will be released the day before the employment report. But, in this cycle, in terms of the Fed's reaction function, it seems to have been downgraded, and the thunder stolen by the CPI. Indeed, when Fed Chair Powell explained why the Fed hiked by 75 bp instead of 50 bp in June as it had led the market to believe, he cited CPI and the preliminary University of Michigan consumer inflation expectation survey (which was later revised lower). While the methodologies and basket of the PCE deflator are different than CPI, the former is expected to confirm the broad developments of the latter. A 0.3% rising in the headline PCE deflator will see the year-over-year pace slip below 6% for the first time since last November. It peaked at 7.0% in the middle of the year. The core rate is stickier and may have eased to 5% after edging up in both August and September.
The US economic calendar is packed in the days ahead. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller house prices 20-city index are expected to have fallen for the third consecutive month (September). That has not happened for a decade. The FHFA house price index is broadly similar. It fell by 0.6% in July and 0.7% in August. The median forecast (Bloomberg survey) is for a 1.3% decline in September. If accurate, it would be the largest monthly decline since November 2008. The October goods trade balance and inventory are inputs into GDP forecasts. There continues to be a significant gap between the Atlanta Fed's GDPNow tracker (4.3%) and the median estimates in Bloomberg's survey (0.5%).
The JOLTS (Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey) has become a popular metric in this cycle and has often been cited by Fed officials. It peaked in March at nearly 11.86 mln. It has erratically trended lower and stood slightly below 10.72 mln in September. It is forecast to have softened in October. The low for the year was set in August at 10.28 mln. In the three downturns since 2000, the peak in JOLTS has come well before a recession, and the bottom after the recession has ended.
While the cost-of-living squeeze is impacting consumption, the supply chains are normalizing, which is a powerful tailwind. This is at least partly the story in the auto sector. US auto sales reached 14.9 mln (SAAR) in October, the best since January and almost 15% from October 2021. In fact, in the three months through October, US auto sales are running 8.8% above the same three-month period a year ago. Still, US auto sales have averaged 13.73 mln through October, nearly 11% lower, at an annualized pace in the first ten months of 2021. Still, S&P Global Mobility analysis warns of softer November figures (14.1 mln). However, if the projection is accurate, it would be about 9.6% more than in November 2021.
There was some optimism that after the 20th Party Congress, China's Xi would have the authority and inclination to pivot on Covid, property, and foreign relations. Yet, Chinese and international medical experts have warned that China is woefully unprepared to relax its Covid policy regarding inoculation rates and medical infrastructure. The surge in cases has seen restrictions imposed on an area responsible for more than a fifth of the country's GDP. China's composite PMI has been falling since the year's peak at 54.1 in June. It fell below the 50 boom/bust level in October for the first time since May, and Q4 GDP appears to be slowing from the 3.9% quarter-over-quarter jump in Q3 after the 2.7% contraction in Q2. The world's second-largest economy may be growing around a third of the pace in Q4, with risks to the downside. The median forecast (in Bloomberg's survey) is for Q1 23 growth of 0.9%.
Aid to the property market may help stabilize the sector in the short term. Iron ore prices surged by more than 27% at the end of October through November 18 amid the optimism. However, this seemed anticipatory in nature as many of the new measures are slowly rolling out. Many observers share our doubts that the excesses of a couple of decades have been absorbed or alleviated. News that separate from the list of 16 measures to support the property market announced earlier this month, the PBOC is considering a CNY200 bln (~$28 bln) of interest-free loans to commercial banks through the end of Q1 to induce them to provide matching funds for stalled property markets, seems to be a subtle recognition that more efforts are needed. While new supply has stalled, we are concerned that the more significant issue is effective demand.
Japan, the world's third-largest economy, unexpectedly contracted (-1.2% annualized rate) in Q3 but appears to be rebounding, likely aided by the new support measures (JPY39 trillion or ~$275 bln). Japan reports October employment figures. The unemployment rate has been 2.5%-2.6% since March. Japan has been successful in boosting the labor force participation rate. It was at 61.8% in early 2020 before Covid and has been at 62.9%-63.0% for four months through September. This is the highest since at least 2001. Retail sales, reported in terms of value (nominal prices), rose 1.3% and 1.5% in August and September, respectively. Another strong report would not be surprising. Government travel subsidies were widened in October.
Japanese businesses were pessimistic about the outlook for industrial output in October. They anticipate a 0.4% decline after production fell 1.6% in September. The auto sector is a source of pessimism. Supply chain disruptions were cited for the dour outlooks of Toyota and Honda. Foreign demand is weakening, and Japanese exports are slowing. Japan's preliminary November manufacturing PMI slipped below the 50 boom/bust level to 49.4, its lowest in two years.
Australia reported October retail sales and some housing data, but the newly introduced monthly CPI may have the most significance. The market is not sure that the Reserve Bank of Australia will hike rates at the December 6 meeting. The futures market has a little better than a 60% chance of a quarter-point hike. The cash rate is at 2.85%. In September, CPI made a new cyclical high of 7.3%. The trimmed mean measure stood at 5.4%, which was also a new high. We would subjectively put the odds higher than the market for a quarter-point hike. The next RBA meeting is on February 9, which seems too long for Governor Lowe to make good on his anti-inflation commitment.
Canada reports Q3 GDP and the November jobs. The Canadian economy is downshifting after enjoying 3.1% and 3.3% annual growth rates in Q1 and Q2, respectively. The pace is likely to be a little less than half in Q3 and appears to be slowing down more here in Q4. The median forecast (Bloomberg's survey) is for the Canadian economy contract in the first two quarters of next year. Canada created an impressive 119k full-time positions in October. Adjusted for the size of the economy, this would be as if the US created 1.3 mln jobs. In four of the past five quarters, Canadian job growth has been concentrated in one month. As one would expect, the following month has been a marked slowdown, and twice there were outright declines in full-time positions. After hiking by 100 bp in July, the Bank of Canada slowed its pace to 75 bp in September and 50 bp in October. The central bank meets on December 7, and the swaps market seems comfortable with a quarter-point hike.
Lastly, we turn to the Taiwanese local elections on November 26. The key is the mayoral contest in Taipei. It is seen as the most likely path of the presidency when Tsai-Ing's term ends in 2024. The great-grandson of Chiang Kai-shek is the candidate for the KMT, which wants closer ties to Beijing but rejects claims it is "pro-China." The DPP candidate is the health minister and architect of the country's Covid policy. The Deputy Mayor of Taipei is running as an independent candidate, but it looks like a two-person contest. Despite the US and Chinese defense officials agreeing to improve their practically non-existent dialogue, there is unlikely to be a meeting of the minds about Taiwan. Changes in the constellation of domestic political forces within Taiwan seem to be the most likely component that may change what appears to be an inexorable deteriorating situation. Both Beijing and Washington have good reason to believe the other is trying to change the status quo.