The employment cost index is bearing the blame for the market’s July 31 sell-off. Sam Ro at Business Insider reports:
…traders agree that today’s sell-off is probably due to one stat: the 0.7% jump in the employment cost index (ECI) in the second quarter.
This number, which crossed at 8:30 a.m. ET, was a bit higher than the 0.5% expected by economists. And it represents a year-over-year growth rate of over 2%.
It’s a big deal, because it’s both a sign of inflation and labor market tightness, two forces that put pressure on the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy sooner than later.
The ECI gain was driven by the private sector (compensation for the public sector was up just 0.5%, same as the first quarter), and I would be cautious about reading too much into those numbers. The Fed will take the Q2 reading in context of the low Q1 reading:
The first two quarters averaged a just 0.46% increase, pretty much the same as recent trends of the past five years. And look at the year-over-year-trend:
Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Benefit costs for private sector workers also accelerated, but I think the Fed will likely interpret this as an anomaly:
Again, not out-of-line with readings both before and after the recession.
Bottom Line: I understand why market participants might be a little hypersensitive to anything related to wages. Indeed, wage growth is the missing link in the tight labor market story. But I don’t think the Fed will react much to these numbers; they will place them in context of recent behavior, and in that context they are not much different than current trends. Watch the upcoming employment reports for signs of diminishing underutilization of labor – that is where the Fed will be looking.
This piece is cross-posted from Tim Duy’s Fed Watch with permission.