The U.S. is not stumbling toward recession, but another poor jobs report could trigger a chain reaction on Wall Street and in Washington that reshapes how Americans view the economy.
The government on Friday is expected to report the U.S. created a healthy 169,000 new jobs in June, according to a MarketWatch survey of economists. The unemployment rate is likely to stick to a 49-year low of 3.6%.
Such an increase would come as a big relief to investors, businesses and households after a paltry 75,000 gain in May. President Trump’s economic advisors would also breath easier as they gear up for the 2020 election.
Another subpar report, however, would add to anxieties about the economy, spur the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates in July and give ammo to Trump’s Democratic challengers who contend his trade and other policies have failed.
Most economists believe hiring is not nearly as weak as it seemed in May.
Although job creation has undoubtedly slowed since the end of last year, the U.S. has added an average of at least 150,000 new jobs a month since 2011. The May employment report also appeared to include some quirks that exaggerated the dropoff in hiring.
“The underlying trends are what matter more,” said chief economist Richard Moody of Regions Financial. “It’s hard for me to believe that things have ground to halt.”
The economy, to be sure, is not growing as rapidly as it was in 2018, when the Trump tax cuts and higher government spending lent a big hand. A bounty of recent evidence points to slower growth and suggests the softness will last through the end of the year.
There’s little reason to expect a recession, however.
The strongest labor market in decades continues to fuel steady household spending, by far the biggest influence on the U.S. economy. The stock market
has surged near record highs Interest rates have also fallen again, making home mortgages, auto loans and other forms of lending cheaper. And the financial system is a lot sounder than it was a decade ago.
The wild card, of course, is a tense U.S. trade standoff with China that’s hurt the economy of both countries and added to a global slowdown.
The June employment report on Friday is the main event, but the undercard also includes a closely followed survey of service-oriented companies that now dominate the U.S. economy. Retailers, banks, hospitals, computer developers, service-repair workers and the like.
What investors want to know is whether the recent weakness among manufacturers has spread to the much larger service side of the economy. The ISM service survey registered a relatively robust 56.9% in May, compared to a lackluster 52.1% for the manufacturing index.
“The slowdown in manufacturing has been apparent for quite some time, but how much is that affecting the broader economy,” Moody said.