Fed Will Hike The Rates By…(Hint: Not 0.25%)

Last Friday (September 4, 2015), non-farm payrolls AKA jobs report for August came out little bit stronger. 173,000 jobs were added in August and the unemployment rate decreased by 0.2% (5.3% in July) to 5.1% (The Fed considers unemployment rate of 5.0% to 5.2% as “full employment”), lowest since April 2008.

Employments numbers for June and July were revised higher. June was revised from 231K to 245K (+14K) and July was revised from 215K to 245K (+30K). With these revisions, employments gains in June and July were 44K higher than previously reported.

Total Non-Farm Payrolls - Monthly Net Change
Total Non-Farm Payrolls – Monthly Net Change

Average hourly earnings increased 8 cents or 0.32% (biggest rise in 7 months) to $25.09, a 2.2% gain from a year ago. The average work week increased 0.1 hour, to 34.6 hours. Increasing income will lead to increased spending (demand increases) which leads to increase in Consumer Price Index (CPI) (As demand increases, suppliers will increase the prices of goods and services) which then leads to an increase in inflation, getting closer to Fed’s 2% inflation target (or inflation rockets to the moon, damaging the economy).

Lower oil prices may be holding back wage increases, especially in the energy sector.

While average hourly earnings are slowly growing, recent “positive” changes in the minimum wages – higher minimum wages – will not help earnings/income, but will only mutilate the US economy. While the minimum wage increases may sound like a good thing, but it isn’t. When businesses are forced to pay higher wages to their workers, they may have to increase prices for their goods/services, leading to increase in inflation. Some businesses might lose their market share to low-paying businesses aboard. After businesses adjust their prices to offset wage increases, there’s no actual change in the “buying power” of consumers.

It’s better to let US companies make their own decisions regarding wages. Let the markets lead. Laissez-Faire.

The labor force participation did not move at all, at 62.6% for a third straight month.

So, unemployment decreased and labor force participation stayed unchanged. Here’s the dark side:

261K Americans dropped out of the labor force, pushing total US workers who are not in the labor force to a record of 94 million. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively looking for jobs. Those who dropped out of the labor force are not actively looking for jobs. Therefore, real unemployment rate can be and is much higher.

This report was the latest jobs report before the Federal Reserve meets this month to answer “million-dollar” question, rate-hike or not? The Fed will meet on September 16 and 17 to decide whether to raise interest rates for the first time since June 2006.

Rate-hike in June 2015? Well, that did not happen. Rate-hike in September 2015? Well, expectations for the rate-hike were lowered due to uncertainty about China and the health of global economy. But, Yes, there will be a rate-hike this month. No, not 0.25% (or 25 basis points). The Fed will raise the rates by…

…10 basis points or 0.10%…

0.10% is very reasonable.

On August 27, Preliminary (2nd estimate) Gross Domestic Product (GDP) showed that the US economy grew faster than initially thought in the second quarter. GDP expanded at 3.7% annualized rate instead of the previous estimate (advance estimate) of 2.3%.

This clearly shows a sharp acceleration in US economic growth momentum following a weak start in the year.

Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) (Consumer spending), which accounts for two-thirds of US economic activity, grew at a 3.1% in the second quarter following 1.8% growth in first quarter.

Real GDP and PCE- Quarterly % Change (2012 Q1 - 2015 Q2)
Real GDP and PCE- Quarterly % Change (2012 Q1 – 2015 Q2)

PCE price index (inflation measurement) increased at 2.2% annualized rate after declining by -1.9% in the first quarter. Core-PCE (excluding food and energy) increased at 1.8% annualized rate after increasing only 1.0% in the first quarter.

Further revisions for the second quarter are possible when the Department Of Commerce releases its final (third) GDP update on September 25.

Market reactions to the economic reports:

S&P 500 ("SPX") - 15 Min. Chart
S&P 500 (“SPX”) – 15 Min. Chart
US Dollar ("/DX") - Hourly Chart
US Dollar (“/DX”) – Hourly Chart

U.S. Rate-Hike Impending – Tick Tock

Last Thursday (July 30, 2015), the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released its advance (1st estimate out of 3) of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter (April, May and June) of the year. It was positive enough to increase the chance of rate-hike in September significantly.

Before we go any further, let’s review what two types of GDP, nominal-dollar terms and real-dollar terms. Current (or nominal-dollar) GDP tallis the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S. using present prices. On the other hand, Real (or chained-dollar) GDP counts only the value of what was physically produced. To clarify the point, suppose a hat-making factory announces that it made $1 million selling hats this year, 11% more than last year. The $1 million represents nominal company sales (or current dollar). However, something is missing. From this future alone, it’s unclear how the factory achieved the extra income. Did it actually sell 11% more hats? Or did it sell the same number of hats as the year before but simply raised prices by 11%? If the factory made more money because it increased the price tag by 11%, then in real (constant-dollar) terms, the true volume of hats sold this year was no greater than last year, at $900,000.

It’s vital to know if the economy grew because the quantity of products sold was greater or whether it was largely the result of price hikes, or inflation. (Source: “The Secrets of Economic Indicators” by Bernard Baumohl)

Real GDP increased at a annualized rate of 2.3%, vs expectations of 2.5%.  This is a major acceleration from the first quarter when real GDP increased 0.6% (expansion), revised from -0.2% (contraction). The economy bounced back after a slow start in the beginning of the year.

Real GDP - Quarterly (1Q 2011-2Q 2015)
Real GDP – Quarterly (1Q 2011-2Q 2015)

In the beginning of the year, US economy was hurt, or “walked backwards” due to unfavorable weather, lower energy prices, West Port strike, and stronger dollar. While, the economy has moved beyond the weather and west port strike, – a strong dollar, and lower energy prices will continue to limit growth.

While first quarter was revised upwards, 2011-2014 was revised lower. The economy grew 1.6% in 2011, down from the 2.3% initial reading; 2.2% in 2012, up from the 1.5% initial reading; 1.5% in 2013, down from 1.7%; and 2.4% in 2014, down from 2.7%. From 2011 to 2014, growth was essentially weaker. The economy expanded by an average annual rate of 2%, below initial reading of 2.3%.

Real GDP - Annual (2011-2014)
Real GDP – Annual (2011-2014)

Growth in the second quarter was boosted by consumer spending. Consumer spending grew at a 2.9% rate from a 1.8% in the first quarter. That is a very good sign because real personal consumption expenditures (PFE) AKA consumer spending, accounts for 70% of total GDP. If people are not spending, it spells serious trouble for the economy.

Real exports increased 5.3% in the second quarter, compared to 6% fall in the first quarter. First quarter’s significant drop was due to west port slowdown. The strong dollar has hurt exports but its effects have eased recently…for now. Port delays in the first quarter freed up exports and temporarily increased exports.

Business investment fell 0.6% in the second quarter, from previous 1.6% increase in the first quarter, as energy companies continue to scale back projects amid low oil prices.

Recently, crude oil prices have fallen back to the Earth. On Monday, August 3, crude oil prices hit just above $45 (currently below $45). It will continue to hurt energy companies, causing them to scale back projects and lay-offs. Low gasoline prices, however, would lead consumers to spend money. It’s better to pay off debts first before spending money on “wants”.

Crude Oil ("/CL" on thinkorswim) - Daily
Crude Oil (“/CL” on thinkorswim) – Daily

On Friday (July 31, 2015), Employment Cost Index (ECI) report for the second quarter was released and it was disappointing.

ECI, a broad measure of workers’ wages and benefits, increased 0.2%, smallest gain since records began in the second quarter of 1982, following 0.7% increase in the first quarter. Wages and salaries, which accounts of 70% of compensation costs, also increased 0.2% in the second quarter, the smallest gain on record.

Employment Cost Index (ECI) - Bloomberg Terminal
Employment Cost Index (ECI) – Bloomberg Terminal

The report suggests that slack remains in the labor market.  The unemployment rate fell to 5.3% in June – the lowest level since April 2008 – close to the Fed’s target of 5% to 5.2%, which the Fed policy makers consider consistent full employment.

S&P 500’s reaction to both GDP and ECI reports.

S&P 500 ("SPX" on thinkorswim) - Hourly
S&P 500 (“SPX” on thinkorswim) – Hourly

Dollar’s reaction to both GDP and ECI reports.

US Dollar ("/DX" on thinkorswim) - Hourly
US Dollar (“/DX” on thinkorswim) – Hourly

The Federal Reserve are counting on rising wages to boost both the economy and inflation (2% target). On Wednesday, July 29, the Fed said it won’t start lifting rates until there is “some further improvement in the labor market and is reasonably confident that inflation will move back to its 2 percent objective over the medium term.”

The Fed is monitoring employment, inflation, and wages closely as it moves to closer to raising interest rates from near zero, for the first time since the recession. Raising rates too soon or too late can have its consequences.

The Fed will meet on September 16 and 17. I still believe the Fed will raise rates. If employment, inflation and wage reports are not very strong until September meeting, the Fed might raise the rates by little as 0.10% (10 basis points), instead of 0.25%.

I believe the disappointment of ECI is temporary as more companies are starting to increases wages and more people are slowly entering jobs market. I also believe that GDP continues to be strong. In fact, I believe current Q2 GDP will be revised higher. Preliminary (2nd estimate) of Q2 GDP will be released on Thursday, August 27.

On Friday (August 7), important reading data of US economy will be released, non-farm payrolls AKA jobs report. My guess for employment and unemployment rate is 285K and 5.4%, respectively. I believe wages will stay flat at this time and accelerate in the next few months.

I will take advantage of any pullback in the greenback (US Dollar). Greenback has a room to strengthen more. Currency pairs such as USD/JPY, USD/CAD, I would be long, and I would be short EUR/USD. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me and/or leave comments below. Thank you.