Here’s what the market will be looking for in Friday’s key jobs report

Amazon workers deliver packages on Cyber Monday in New York, US, on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. 

Stephanie Keith | Bloomberg | Getty Images

At a time when the economy is supposed to be slowing, Friday’s jobs report is expected to show that employers actually picked up the hiring pace in November.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. A growing economy is a good thing, and nothing underpins that better than a solid labor market. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expect the Labor Department to report that nonfarm payrolls expanded by 190,000 last month, up from the 150,000 in October.

But investors and policymakers have been expecting things to slow down enough to at least allow the Federal Reserve to call an end to this cycle of interest rate hikes as inflation ebbs and the supply-demand mismatch in employment evens out.

A hot jobs report could undermine that confidence, and put a damper on what has been a buoyant mood on Wall Street.

“There’s some risk to the upside because of the returning auto workers who were on strike,” said Kathy Jones, chief fixed income strategist at the Schwab Center for Financial Research. “So it looks like a steady but slowing jobs market.”

Payroll growth has averaged 204,000 over the past three months, a solid gain though well below the 342,000 level for the same period in 2022. The unemployment rate over the past 12 months, however, has risen just 0.2 percentage point to 3.9%, elevated from where it was earlier in the year but still characteristic of a robust economy.

However, there are a number of dynamics at play in the current picture that make this week’s report, which is scheduled to be released at 8:30 a.m. ET, potentially critical.

Wage growth and inflation

Jobless rate as a recession indicator

However, even the rule’s author, economist Claudia Sahm, said there are no guarantees that will be the case this time around, though warning signs are definitely in place.

“There is a logic to it that … once the unemployment rate starts rising, it often keeps going, and it picks up steam and it’s a feedback loop,” Sahm said recently on CNBC. “That’s why a small increase in the unemployment rate can be really bad news, because it keeps going.”

Signs of strength, and weakness

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