Neil Irwin asks: “When does a report showing a booming job market cause recession alarm bells to start clanging?”
His answer: “When exceptional jobs growth leads bond investors to bet that the Fed will raise rates so aggressively to quash inflation that it will be forced to reverse course later.” That's what happened on Friday.
When the bond yield curve inverts, as it did Friday, it usually means a recession isn’t too far behind.
And although that's being a tad presumptuous at this point, it's clear the Fed is walking a narrowing tightrope.
The Labor Department’s March employment data was strong again, with 431,000 jobs added, positive revisions to January and February numbers and a slightly falling unemployment rate.
More Americans are rejoining the labor market, and wages are showing steady growth.
Just two weeks earlier, Fed chair Jerome Powell said that he sees a "very, very tight labor market, tight to an unhealthy level."
The new numbers, however, suggest it’s becoming even more so, especially around the government’s headline unemployment rate.
That means the jobs numbers amount to full speed ahead for more aggressive Fed tightening, including what looks likely to be the first half-percentage point rate hike in 22 years at the early May policy meeting.
That's why the jobs numbers caused an 8% jump in 2-year Treasury yields, to 2.46% from 2.28% heading into last weekend. Longer-term yields rose by less, with the 10-year ending the day at 2.38%.
When long-term rates are lower than their short-term counterparts, that's called an inversion or an inverted yield curve, to be more precise.
It’s like bond investors are betting that the Fed will end up reversing those near-term rate hikes down the road (i.e., lowering them…again), presumably because of a weakening economy.