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March jobs report, PCE inflation, consumer confidence: What to know this week

·10 min read
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The March jobs report takes center stage this week. The Labor Department’s monthly snapshot of U.S. employment will be closely watched by market participants and will carry special weight as Federal Reserve officials appear to signal more hawkishness in the central bank’s rate-hiking plans. Meanwhile, Core PCE, the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, is also due out Wednesday and will offer further clues on how aggressive the next interest rate bump could be.

Despite a streak of seesaw action, markets have mostly fared well since the Fed raised interest rates by 25 basis points on March 16 in the first hike since 2018. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, Nasdaq Composite, and S&P 500 each registered their second straight week of gains on Friday to close at one-month highs.

Still, questions remain around the central bank’s path forward and investors are watching closely to see whether the ramp up in short-term rates that is underway will blunt the market’s gains.

The latest jobs report due out Friday comes as traders are braced for the likelihood that Fed officials may lean into higher borrowing costs more aggressively than anticipated after recent remarks from Fed Chair Jerome Powell indicating “ongoing rate increases will be appropriate” to lower inflation readings. If Friday’s employment data shows a tighter-than-ever labor market, policymakers could be even more inclined to move ahead with a 50-basis point hike.

“The payroll jobs report could be the biggest one yet in this recovery from the pandemic,” FWDBONDS chief economist Christopher Rupkey said in a recent note. “Federal Reserve officials are already chomping at the bit for bigger 50 bps rate hikes at upcoming meetings, and the tightest labor market since the 1960s is like pouring gasoline on the fire where any policy official worth his or her salt is burning with desire to get interest rates up to 2% neutral levels now.”

All things suggest a jaw-dropping jobs report. Last week, U.S. jobless claims notched the lowest level since September 1969 at 187,000 filings. Moreover, the most recent employment report blew past what economists had estimated, posting a stunning 687,000 jobs added or created during the month of February. The March report is expected to show another robust reading with payrolls likely to rise by 490,000, according to Bloomberg economist estimates.

This labor market tightness has strongly informed the Fed’s decision to rein in monetary policy, with economic momentum suggesting to officials that the U.S. economy could weather less accommodative financial conditions.

“The Federal Reserve has a dual mandate to promote employment and stable prices,” Bankrate senior industry analyst Ted Rossman said in a note. “The strong labor market is leading the Fed to focus squarely on combating the high inflation rate. Fed Chair Jerome Powell recently hinted at a more aggressive pace of rate hikes, and this report fits that narrative since inflation is a much bigger concern than unemployment right now.”

While an improving labor market is good for U.S. households, widespread job openings have made room for significant leverage for workers, driving wage gains higher and further elevating inflationary pressures.

To add to that, Bank of America pointed out that amid the labor market recovery is a higher level of job openings for any given unemployment rate than compared to prior history. As a result, the short-run inflation neutral unemployment rate (NAIRU) may be higher than longer-run estimates, implying more sustained wage and price pressures in the near-term, according to the bank.

The Labor Department's JOLTs (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary) for February will be released Tuesday with analysts, according to Bloomberg consensus, expecting vacancies of 11 million, similar to January's results.

“The pandemic labor market has seen an extraordinary outward shift in the Beveridge curve (the relationship between unemployment and the job vacancy rate), suggesting difficulty in matching workers to jobs,” BofA economists said in a recent note. “This mismatch may reflect surging goods spending and hence a shortage of workers in the hottest part of the economy.”

Fed's measure of inflation

Also on the inflation front, the Bureau of Economic Analysis is scheduled to release a fresh read on its monthly personal consumption expenditures (PCE) deflator this Thursday. The measure is another gauge of how quickly prices are increasing across the country. Consensus economists expect the PCE to post a rise of another 0.6% in February, according to Bloomberg data, This would mark the 15th consecutive monthly increase and bring the index up by 6.4% on a year-over-year basis.

The core PCE index, which the Fed uses to conduct monetary policy, is also expected to show an increase when the print publishes Wednesday. Consensus economists are looking for a 5.5% increase in core PCE in February, compared to January’s 5.2% rise.

The Fed's already arduous task of mitigating inflation without stunting economic growth is further complicated by geopolitical turmoil in Eastern Europe. War in Ukraine and penalizing sanctions against Russia for its invasion of the country have raised uncertainty in recent weeks over the conflict’s toll on the global economic picture and potential spillover consequences for the U.S. Namely, rising oil prices have elevated inflation expectations. WTI crude oil futures snapped a two-week losing streak to round out the week 8.8% higher at $113.90 per barrel as of Friday's close.

OPEC+ (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) is scheduled to hold a virtual meeting on March 31 with Russia and its nine other allies to discuss May production levels. The intergovernmental organization is expected to maintain current production plans, even as crude oil prices trade at a 14-year high.

“The Fed seems to be the only central bank still focused on increasing its hawkishness” amid higher energy prices and inflation," Charles Schwab Chief Global Investment Strategist Jeffrey Kleintop told Yahoo Finance Live. “It’s noteworthy.”

Consumer confidence

As inflation worries mount, consumers are getting wary about what's ahead. The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index due for release on Tuesday will show a timely snapshot of their thinking following the latest spike in prices. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg are looking for the index to fall to 107.0 for March following a read of 110.5 last month.

A customer shops at a deli in Reading Terminal Market after the inflation rate hit a 40-year high in January, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. February 19, 2022.  REUTERS/Hannah Beier
A customer shops at a deli in Reading Terminal Market after the inflation rate hit a 40-year high in January, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. February 19, 2022. REUTERS/Hannah Beier

Last week's further decline in the University of Michigan's final consumer sentiment index for March, which fell to 59.4 from a preliminary reading of 59.7 and 62.8 in the prior month, is an indication of consumers' changing attitude about their economic future. The survey saw more consumers report reduced living standards due to rising inflation than any other time except during the two worst recessions in the past 50 years: from March 1979 to April 1981, and from May to October 2008, the University of Michigan said.

"Usually consumers fret about job opportunities and the lack thereof, but this time, the consumer is in sync with Fed officials that the greatest danger the economy faces is inflation," Rupkey said in recent commentary. "Consumers continue to spend, but future consumption is very much in doubt as the cost of store bought goods soars ever higher."

"We have rarely seen consumers this pessimistic outside of the darkest days of recessions, but the polling indicates the public is more scared about their economic future than they have been in years," he wrote. "Everyone get out of the way because if the consumer stops, then the economy drops and it will be a miracle if the economy can avoid a shipwreck on the shores of recession."

Earnings season has winded down — though the next quarterly read (representing the first three months of 2022) will be underway soon. A few reports are in the queue to trickle in on Friday, with names including Jefferies Financial (JEF), Chewy (CHWY), Lululemon (LULU), and others.

Economic calendar

Monday: Advance Goods Trade Balance, February (-$106.3 billion expected, -$107.6 billion during prior month); Wholesale Inventories, month-over-month, February preliminary (1.2% expected, 0.8% during previous month, upwardly revised to 1.0%); Retail Inventories, month-over-month, February (1.4% expected, 4.9% during prior month); Dallas Fed Manufacturing Activity, March (11 expected, 14 during prior month)

Tuesday: FHFA House Pricing Index, month-over-month, January (1.3% expected, 1.2% during prior month); S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-City Composite, month-over-month, January (1.50% expected, 1.46% during prior month); S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-City Composite, year-over-year, January (18.55% expected, 18.56% during prior month); S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, year-over-year, January (18.84% during prior month); Conference Board Consumer Confidence, March (107.0 expected, 110.5 during prior read); Conference Board Present Situation, March (145.1 during prior read); Conference Board Expectations, March (87.5 during prior read); JOLTS job openings, February (11 million expected, 11.26 million during prior month)

Wednesday: MBA Mortgage Applications, week ended March 25 (-8.1% during prior week); ADP Employment Change, March (450,000 expected, 475,000 during prior month); GDP Annualized, quarter-over-quarter, 4Q third (7.0% expected, 7.0% prior); Personal Consumption, quarter-over-quarter, 4Q third (3.1% expected, 3.1% prior); GDP Price Index, quarter-over-quarter, 4Q third (7.1% expected, 7.1% prior); Core PCE, quarter-over-quarter, 4Q third (5.0% expected, 5.0% prior);

Thursday: Challenger Job Cuts, year-over-year, March (-55.9% during prior month); Personal Income, month-over-month, February (0.5% expected, 0.0% during prior month); Personal Spending, month-over-month, February (0.5% expected, 2.1% during prior month); Real Personal Spending, month-over-month, February (-0.2% expected, 1.5% during prior month); PCE deflator, month-over-month, February (0.6% expected, 0.6% during prior month); PCE deflator, year-over-year, February (6.4% expected, 6.1% during prior month); PCE core deflator, month-over-month, February (0.4% expected, 0.5% during prior month); PCE core deflator, year-over-year, February (5.5% expected, 5.2% during prior month); Initial Jobless Claims, week ended March 26 (200,000 expected, 187,000 during prior week); Continuing Claims, week ended March 19 (1.35 million expected, 1.35 million during prior week); MNI Chicago PMI, March (57.0 expected, 56.3 during prior month)

Friday: Two-Month Payroll Net Revision, March (92,000 prior); Change in Nonfarm Payrolls, March (490,000 expected, 678,000 during prior month); Change in Private Payrolls, March (408,000 expected, 444,000 during prior month); Change in Manufacturing Payrolls, January (30,000 expected, 36,000 during prior month); Unemployment Rate, March (3.7% expected, 3.8% during prior month); Average Hourly Earnings, month-over-month, March (0.4% expected, 0.0% during prior month); Average Hourly Earnings, year-over-year, March (5.5% expected, 5.1% prior month); Average Weekly Hours All Employees, March (34.7 expected, 34.7 during prior month); Labor Force Participation Rate, March (62.4% expected, 62.3% during prior month); Underemployment Rate, March (7.2% prior month); S&P Global Manufacturing PMI, March final (58.5 expected, 58.5 during prior month); Construction Spending, month-over-month, February (1.0% expected, 1.3% during prior month); ISM Manufacturing, March (59.0 expected, 58.6 during prior month); ISM Prices Paid, March (80 expected, 75.6 prior month); ISM New Orders, March (61.7 during prior month); ISM Employment, March (52.9 during prior month); WARDS Total Vehicle Sales, March (13.90 million expected, 14.07 million prior month)

Earnings calendar

Monday

Before market open: TPG (TPG)

After market close: Jefferies Financial (JEF), Dave & Buster’s Entertainment (PLAY)

Tuesday

Before market open: McCormick (MKC)

After market close: Chewy (CHWY), RH (RH), Micron Technology (MU), Lululemon (LULU)

Wednesday

Before market open: Five Below (FIVE)

After market close: No notable reports scheduled for release

Thursday

Before market open: Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA)

After market close: Blackberry (BB)

Friday

No notable reports scheduled for release

Alexandra Semenova is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alexandraandnyc

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