Monday, May 11, 2015

Yellen on the Wage Question (excerpt)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen has stressed the importance of wage inflation in influencing the FOMC’s decision to start raising interest rates. April’s average hourly earnings (AHE) for all workers rose just 0.1% m/m and 2.2% y/y. She has said that she would like to see 3%-4% wage gains, or be reasonably confident that they are heading in that direction. The three-month change in this measure of wages settled down to 1.8% (saar) during April from 3.6% during March. Nothing to get Yellen too excited, which seemed to get the stock market very excited on Friday.

However, Q1’s Employment Cost Index (ECI) for wages and salaries in the private sector--a more comprehensive measure of wages than the AHE rose 2.7% y/y, the highest since Q3-2008. The Phillips Curve, which posits an inverse relationship between wage inflation and the unemployment rate, is actually working much better with the ECI than the AHE measure of wages, especially compared to the short-term unemployment rate. (See Phillips Curve.)

Yellen is a big believer in the Phillips Curve. She said so in an important 3/27 speech: “A substantial body of theory, informed by considerable historical evidence, suggests that inflation will eventually begin to rise as resource utilization continues to tighten. It is largely for this reason that a significant pickup in incoming readings on core inflation will not [her emphasis] be a precondition for me to judge that an initial increase in the federal funds rate would be warranted. With respect to wages, I anticipate that real wage gains for American workers are likely to pick up to a rate more in line with trend labor productivity growth as employment settles in at its maximum sustainable level. We could see nominal wage growth eventually running notably higher than the current roughly 2 percent pace.” In a footnote, she cited four studies for “recent evidence on the relationship between labor market slack and wages.”

Today's Morning Briefing: Goldilocks' Godmother. (1) Janet & Hamlet: To lift or not to lift? That is the question. (2) Janet & Christine: High and mighty say stocks are mighty high. (3) Yellen’s dashboard shows labor market is cruising. (4) Phillips Curve may be starting to work, pointing to bigger wage gains. (5) April retail sales may settle soft-patch question. (6) Yellen’s latest assessment of stock valuation: It’s high. (7) Addictive fairy dust. (8) Another relief rally after latest feared outcomes turn out to be nonevents. (9) On the verge of a melt-up? (10) Energy, Materials, and Financials join the rally parade. (11) ECI vs. AHE. (More for subscribers.)

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