The employment outlook remains generally upbeat. True, job growth did slow in July, with 157,000 positions being added, or 30,000 fewer than forecast.
The economy performed as advertised in the second quarter, delivering a 4.1% increase in GDP on strength in consumer spending, exports, and business investment. Such broad improvement more than offset slippage in homebuilding.
Earnings reports were still flowing in as July ended and August began. In general, the results have exceeded expectations. True, there have been shortfalls (and a few from high-profile companies), and in some cases, there has been disappointing guidance given for the coming quarters.
The economy was on a roll as the second half began, with much of this strength apparent in the manufacturing and non-manufacturing areas. The gains shown by these broad industrial and consumer categories were especially noteworthy in new orders and production.
Continuing economic tensions with China are front and center on Wall Street these days, with our fraught commercial dealings with that fast-growing nation in the headlines almost daily.
The first half is ending on a high note, with strong progress being made in reducing the unemployment rate, in narrowing the trade imbalance (with the deficit declining sharply in March and April), and in boosting retail spending (with sales coming in well above consensus forecasts during May).
The Federal Reserve is likely to continue tightening the monetary reins. To wit, the Fed raised interest rates in March and again at last week’s FOMC meeting. The latest adjustment was widely expected. It also indicated we could see two additional increases this year—most likely in September and December.
May’s uplifting jobs report helped to turn around a stock market that had come under duress from global headwinds. To wit, the government’s survey showing a 223,000 increase in jobs in May, an 18-year low in unemployment, and a 2.7% rise in average hourly earnings over the past year was greeted warmly on Wall Street, with stocks rising for several days on this news.
Geopolitics are taking center stage on Wall Street these days, with the on-again, off-again summit with North Korea, the intensifying trade standoff with China, and the political and economic dramas unfolding in Italy and Spain topping the list of current global headwinds.
Inflation is back in the headlines, after years of being an afterthought. This is not to suggest the Federal Reserve now has a serious problem on its hands. In fact, the latest monthly figures on wage growth and consumer prices argue against that.