US stocks are off to a lackluster start to the quarter after an impressive nonfarm payroll report and soft ISM manufacturing report. The labor market remains strong and employers are making progress filling vacancies. The ISM manufacturing report confirmed the great story being told about employment but also showed inflation is getting uglier and activity is slowing as supply chain issues persist. Inflation pressures could soon lead to demand destruction so it might be hard to see equities remain upbeat as the US consumer starts to drain their savings.
The latest nonfarm payroll report doesn’t tell us anything we already knew about the labor market. US employers hired 431,000 workers in March, a miss of the 490,000 consensus estimate. The February reading saw an upward revision from 678,000 to 750,000. The unemployment rate fell even better-than-expected to 3.6%. The participation rate is also rising as women return to the job market.
Wages posted the biggest gain since May 2020 and that will help the consumer battle surging inflation. The US economy has recovered the majority of the jobs lost during the pandemic and now the focus remains on how bad inflation will get, but for now the Fed can go forward with aggressive tightening.
The March ISM manufacturing reading fell from 58.6 to 57.1, also missing the consensus estimate of 59.0. This was still the 22nd month of expansion, but the lowest reading since September 2020. Prices paid surged from 75.6 to 87.1 and new orders dropped from 61.7 to 53.8. The only bright spot of the report was robust hiring that saw employment jump from 52.9 to 56.3. Supply constraints are still a key issue and that problem won’t be going away anytime soon. Manufacturing activity is still comfortably in expansion territory but if supply chain constraints remain a problem deep into the summer that could change.
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