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Markets Veer Lower Ahead of Friday Jobs Report

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Although we started out today’s trading session looking pretty good — even found ourselves in the green across the board for a little while this morning — a bearish tone overtook the proceedings. We wound up -347 points on the Dow, or -1.15%, while the S&P 500 dropped another -1.03% on the day. The Nasdaq and Russell 2000 performed better, though still finished down: -0.68% and -0.58%, respectively.

Market indices remain positive for the week, between the Dow +2.43% over the past five trading sessions and the small-cap Russell up a still-impressive +3.91% over this period. Therefore, let’s look at today as a hedge against a non-farm payroll report tomorrow that doesn’t go the way we need it to. And keep in mind we’re still in a “good news is bad news” period.

We discussed this in the Ahead of Wall Street column here this morning: non-farm payrolls are up on average nearly half a million filled positions over the past 12 months; over the past half-year, this has trimmed to nearly 400K per month. While these speak of an historically robust labor market, they are well outside the levels market participants need if we expect the Fed is going to slow their roll on interest rate hikes going forward.

Earlier this week, we saw JOLTS data that saw a sizable drawdown in available jobs in August. And while that tightening of the employment situation is more of what the Fed has in mind, wherever we still see sizable job availability putting the hiree in the driver’s seat, this means higher wages are in play — counter to conducting lower overall inflation metrics. Put simply, a prolonged healthy labor market is bad for interest rates going forward; at least we shouldn’t expect a Fed slowing or pausing anytime soon.

Same with tomorrow’s non-farm results: consensus is for 275K new positions filled last month. That’s half of what we’d seen in select months over the past year, but it’s still unquestionably strong, especially now that we’ve basically made back all the jobs lost during the Covid pandemic over the past 2 1/2 years. Also, wage gains are expected to be up again, +0.3% month over month — the same as we saw for the previous month.

All this said, if we see a big drop in monthly jobs totals — say sub-200K or so, with flat wage growth, for instance — this could be a positive boost to the near-term stock market. After all, we’re still trying to climb out of the big hole we dug in September, and we’re only in the first week of October. But we suggest a rally like this would essentially be a muted one, as even a shockingly low jobs number probably wouldn’t be enough for the Fed not to hike rates another 75 basis points all by itself.

For that to become a legitimate conversation, we’d have to also see a collapse of Consumer Price Index (CPI) data, which comes out a week from today. And realistically, how far could this data possibly fall? Last month brought us +8.3% CPI year over year on headline, +6.3% on core. Chop them both in half and we still don’t get to 2% inflation. But these are the data points upon which a change in Fed policy rest, regardless of outcome.

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