All eyes in the finance world will turn to U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen next week as speculation about an interest rate rise percolates in light of Friday’s dismal jobs report. The Fed has been looking to impose its second interest rate hike since it slashed rates to zero at the height of the Great Recession, but the weak May jobs report could delay action.
The Labor Department reported Friday only 38,000 jobs were created last month, less than a quarter of what analysts had been expecting. But even taking the strike by 35,000 Verizon workers into account, the report still represented a slowdown in hiring and was coupled with a reduction in the size of the labor force, which shrank to its lowest level since the start of the year and equaled its size last June.
Bruce Wilds of Seeking Alpha said in a post Saturday that low interest rates have distorted the markets, creating a disconnect between the markets and the economy as investors seek more than a negligible return.
Yellen is scheduled to speak Monday in Philadelphia and is expected to update her analysis just a week before the Federal Open Markets Committee is set to convene for its policy meeting and a possible decision regarding interest rates.
The problem is, May’s report came on the heels of a disappointing April jobs report, which showed that only 160,000 jobs were created — fewer than the 200,000 than had been expected. If the June report, due to come out July 8, also is disappointing, the Fed may have to put the brakes on future interest rate increases.
The White House acknowledged the dismal May figures but tried to downplay the significance, with a spokesman saying data from just one month carry little significance. In a statement, the administration put a happy face on the 4.7 unemployment rate, the lowest since November 2007, even though the fall from April’s 5 percent tally was due largely to people exiting the labor force. The one bright spot was an increase in hourly wages for private-sector employees, up 2.5 percent from last year and rising at an annualized rate of 3.2 percent so far this year.
Former Labor Department chief economist Harry Holzer said in a statement that the wage increase figures suggest “the average employed worker is doing better, while those still not working see weak prospects.”
Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, however, is still pushing for a rate hike, calling it “appropriate.”
“The timing of actually when the rate hikes would occur and the slope of that gradual path is data-dependent,” she told reporters in Stockholm. “You can’t read too much into one number, but it is certainly part of the data that will be taken into account as we go into the June FOMC meeting and for the rest of the year.”
The Fed warned in its April 26-27 minutes that it planned to increase interest rates in June if the economy kept improving, but it set three hurdles, with consistently improving job prospects one of them.