HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK
- Investors celebrated tax cuts by snapping up U.S. equities this week, extending last year’s record-setting rally into the first week of 2018. Energy stocks were lifted as WTI hit $62 for the first time since 2014.
- December’s solid jobs report capped the end of a stellar year for the labor market as the unemployment rate remained at a 17-year low of 4.1%. Overall, 2.2 million jobs were added in 2017.
- In 2018, tax cuts will provide employers with more ammunition for pay upgrades, which will help inflation edge higher. We expect the Fed to hike twice in 2018, with inflation expected to reach 2% later this year
Economy Added 2.2 Million Jobs in 2017
Investors celebrated tax cuts by snapping up U.S. equities this week, extending last year’s record-setting rally into the first week of 2018. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite reached fresh highs, owing to rising profit expectations and strong fundamentals. Energy stocks were lifted as WTI hit $62 for the first time since 2014, a result of strong global demand that has fueled a production boom and helped drain oil surpluses. Strong activity was reflected in global manufacturing indices in December. The U.S. ISM manufacturing index reached its highest annual level since 2004 in 2017, while similar indices in the Eurozone, China, and the UK also reflected roaring factory activity (Chart 1).
Production has been supported by solid spending figures, with U.S. vehicle sales in December being a prime example. Auto sales rounded out 2017 strongly, helping make the annual total the fourth best in history for auto dealers. Although pent-up demand for vehicles dwindled over 2017, sales in 2018 should continue to be supported by lengthening loan terms and tightening labor markets. Moreover, personal income tax cuts should provide an additional boost to demand.
Tax reform was also a topic discussed by the FOMC in December. The pace of monetary policy normalization could increase to offset any inflationary pressures that materialize from the plan. This prospect sent the U.S. dollar higher temporarily while the ten-year benchmark bond yield rose. Still, the Committee expressed concern over low inflation that has remained despite persistent labor market tightening.
Indeed, this morning’s data confirms that the U.S. labor market continues to tighten. December’s solid jobs report capped the end of a stellar year for the labor market as the unemployment rate remained at a 17-year low of 4.1% for the third consecutive month. Strong hiring brought the total jobs added in 2017 up to roughly 2.2 million, outperforming 2016 (Chart 2). As the labor market approaches full employment, the pace of hiring will subside as the unemployment rate stabilizes in the medium term. Employers will have to dole out larger pay increases in order to attract and retain workers. And, with tax cuts providing more ammunition for pay upgrades, it is just a matter of time before inflation edges higher. Additionally, the recent increase in commodity prices may squeeze profit margins further, and should translate into consumer price increases as the year progresses. Next week’s CPI report should illustrate the extent to which this has impacted price growth in December.
All told, the strong finish to 2017 provides ample momentum for a pickup in growth in 2018. We still expect the Fed to hike twice in 2018, assuming that inflation builds steadily, reaching the Fed’s 2% target later this year. However, political uncertainties still loom large. This includes a federal budget resolution, as temporary funding runs out on the 19th of this month. Although another short-term extension could be passed in order to curtail a government shutdown, several contentious issues will eventually need to be addressed.
Katherine Judge, Economist
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