While some U.S. labor market measures are at record levels following six years of expansion, others hold room for improvement compared with past performance in previous recoveries. Our view is that the economy remains resilient, growth is reaccelerating from a temporary first-quarter weakness, and the likelihood of recession in the next six to 12 months remains low.
AIER’s inflationary pressures scorecard suggests an increase in May as 15 of 23 indicators showed rising pressure compared with six that displayed declines, suggesting that prices may rise in coming months. Among CPI components, energy climbed at a fast pace in May, contributing to strong growth in the index, while food prices stayed unchanged. In the labor market, more jobs were created, but productivity growth slowed and labor costs rose, putting upward pressure on inflation. Stubbornly high rates of underemployment and discouraged workers are areas showing room for further improvement in a market closely watched by Fed policy makers poised to raise short-term rates for the first time in nine years.
First-quarter weakness, though seen as temporary, led to scaled-back growth projections from the Fed in June. While policy makers left short-term rates unchanged at their June meeting, a majority of FOMC members expect an increase later this year rather than a delayed take-off in 2016. At the same time, they expect the pace of normalizing policy to be slower than previously anticipated.
Employment and incomes are not expanding as robustly in this recovery as both did in earlier cycles. As long as uncertainty in jobs and earnings persists for large parts of the population, political attitudes are likely to favor protectionist tendencies in trade, immigration, and on other issues.
Federal budget deficits remain large by historical measures but have narrowed substantially in recent years, curbing the Treasury’s need to issue new debt. Combined with ongoing geo-political risks and uncertainty, the resulting reduction in issuance could partly offset the negative effects of anticipated rate hikes.
In the world of precious metals, gold prices have outperformed silver by a wide margin in recent years, suggesting that silver will be the better performer in coming years, based on historical patterns.
Further improvement in labor markets should begin to push compensation costs higher, supporting consumer spending but also potentially squeezing corporate profits. Companies will need to either pass along higher costs, boost productivity, or both, to maintain earnings growth.
Globally, market performance has been quite divergent. U.S. equities have performed admirably, particularly compared with developed markets. Greece and China had roughly similar histories until the Great Recession. Since then, Greek shares have languished while Chinese indexes have posted large gains, only to suffer recent sharp declines.