This morning saw the release of the most anticipated economic data of the year (and arguably of the past several years), as the Labor Department published its employment situation report for August at 8:30 a.m. EDT.
"Will they or won't they?" is the question everyone on Wall Street and throughout global finance is asking themselves (and others), referring to whether or not the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade at this month's meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee on Sept. 17-18.
The Fed has been at pains for some time to emphasize that its decision is data-dependent. As a result, analysts and pundits go over every significant economic data release with a fine-tooth comb; the monthly U.S. employment report is the 800-pound gorilla of economic data.
Thankfully, there is no shortage of first-rate intellects on Wall Street to guide investors, starting with John Ryding and Conrad DeQuadros of RDQ Economics (hat-tip to The Wall Street Journal, which has collated a much larger compendium):
This jobs report should tip those who are waverers on the FOMC to agree to a rate hike at the Sept. 16-17 FOMC meeting.
A September rate hike it is, then. Hang on, though: Lindsey Piegza of Stifel Nicolaus offers a somewhat different take on the report:
This morning's report, however, while offering pockets of improvement, appears to be a net win for the doves on the committee, offering yet another data point to suggest the appropriate course of action for rates is lower for longer.
Confused? Thankfully, Guy LeBas' judgment at Janney Montgomery Scott is worthy of Solon:
The reality is that a September rate hike is basically a coin-flip event and we believe the Fed will settle that flip by calling "edge." In this case, that means a 10 to 15 basis point micro hike.
The clause I have emphasized is the most commonsensical comment of the day -- the rest is nonsense. If the Fed doesn't have the confidence to raise the Fed funds rate by a mere quarter point, it will stand pat rather than instituting a "micro hike."
While the actual probabilities may be different, their best estimate for anyone not on the FOMC comes down to a coin flip. (At this stage, that statement may even hold for members of the Fed's rate-setting committee!)
Of course, the Fed's interest rate decision doesn't rest on a single employment report, so perhaps some disagreement on its timing is to be expected. Surely, however, Wall Street's finest can agree on the quality of this single report specifically. Here's Millan Mulraine at TD Securities:
The Fed will look at this employment report with some comfort that the recovery in the labor market is continuing.
Steve Blitz at ITG Investment Research has a somewhat different interpretation of the same data:
There is little in the August report, nor in the past several even with the upward revisions, to give the Fed any sense the U.S. economy is accelerating. If anything, the momentum seems to be slowing.
It takes two sides to make a market, I suppose.
With this sample of Wall Street commentary, I hope I've illustrated how futile it is for individual investors to expend any energy worrying about the timing of the Fed's interest rate rise. I feel extremely confident that 10 years from now, investors who held shares of Apple, Google, Mead Johnson Nutrition, PayPal, or Phillips 66 in the interval won't have any reason to remember whether the Fed first hiked rates in September or December 2015 (or in 2016, for that matter).