Implications: Job growth moderated in December, but the underlying trends in the labor market remain strong. Nonfarm payrolls rose 148,000, lagging the consensus expected 190,000. Meanwhile, civilian employment, an alternative measure of jobs that includes small-business start-ups, rose a below-average 104,000. In the past year, nonfarm payrolls are up 171,000 per month while civilian employment is up 200,000 per month. We think the underlying trend is somewhere between those two figures and think the tax cuts enacted at the end of last year will keep hiring robust even as businesses strive to raise productivity. The unemployment rate, which finished 2016 at 4.7%, closed last year at 4.1%. Look for further declines in 2018 in spite of an increase in the growth in the labor force. We're looking for the jobless rate to finish 2018 at 3.7%, which would beat the lowest rate of 3.8% in 2000 at the peak of the tech boom. The lowest jobless rate in the 1960s was 3.4%. With the cut in the corporate tax rate, we think that record will fall in 2019, eventually hitting the lowest level since the early 1950s. Although a relatively low participation rate makes it easier to have a lower unemployment rate, at 62.7%, the participation rate is exactly where it finished 2015 and 2016 as well. The best news in today's report was a drop in the median duration of unemployment to 9.1 weeks, the lowest since before the start of the financial crisis in 2008. As usual, we like to follow total earnings, which combines the total number of hours worked and average hourly earnings. Average hourly earnings rose 0.3% in December, while total hours worked increased 0.2%. Put it all together and total earnings are up a sturdy 4.5% from a year ago, signaling plenty of growth in consumer purchasing power. In other recent news on the job market, initial jobless claims rose 3,000 last week while continuing claims fell 37,000. Look for another solid report in January, although the continued cold spell in much of the country might put some temporary downward pressure on jobs for the month. If so, don't fall into the trap of thinking the good times are over. Job gains should rebound in the following months.
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