U.S. equity markets welcomed a robust performance on Friday, which had all the makings of a so-called catch-up rally. All three major blue-chip indices gained an average of over 2%, with the venerable Dow Jones Industrial Average leading the pack up 2.12%, or nearly 370 points. This, however, did not quite make up for the losses incurred on Wednesday and Thursday, and the Dow Jones ended the week up a fairly meager 0.7%.
Wall Street investors didn’t seem too perplexed at the overall picture, with optimistic data from the U.S. Department of Labor overshadowing most other financial news. According to government compiled statistics, the economy added 211,000 jobs for the month of November. Positive revisions for September and October brought in another 35,000 jobs that were not initially counted.
Naturally, this sets the stage for the Federal Reserve to lift interest rates — an event that Fed chair Janet Yellen has been promising since taking over the helms. From a Fed apologists’ perspective, there would simply be no better time, and the central bankers really have no alternative. The consensus has largely been that artificially suppressed rates are not sustainable and that raising them is the responsible course of action — provided, as Ms. Yellen has pointed out, if the economy can sustain the new paradigm shift.
The jobs report pushes one agenda — the economy is healthy enough. But the financial markets tell a different story. When we look at a three-year weekly chart of the Dow Jones, it’s noted that the acceleration of growth has subsided the higher the index went. Quite clearly, the Dow peaked in growth in late spring of this year, and has largely failed to move past this resistance barrier. Despite some strong sessions in recent days and weeks, the markets on a long-term average are actually losing ground. Surely, then, an interest rate hike would exacerbate matters, not improve them.
So the markets can’t support the Fed’s potentially imminent hawkish policy. What about the economy itself — aren’t the jobs numbers good enough to justify a little bit of rate hike medicine? Bluntly, no. If the economy was firing on all cylinders — or even some of them — we would see significant increases in consumer spending. As the old saying goes, money talks and the smelly stuff walks. But in fact we are seeing the opposite. Foot traffic for Black Friday sales were largely considered disappointing by retail experts and the rise in online sales would likely not be enough to make up for the brick-and-mortar losses.
The lesson here is to not get distracted in the month-to-month gyrations of the jobs report. A good economy would be felt by the majority of the populace. However, slowing growth in investment returns and weaker consumer sentiment woefully contradicts the mainstream position.