In January, US payrolls expanded by 225,000, not only beating the consensus forecast, but also forecasts from every single economics group. Since January 2019 (12 months ago), both payrolls and civilian employment – an alternative measure of jobs that includes small-business start-ups – are up 2.1 million. The labor force – those who are either working or looking for work – is up 1.5 million, while the jobless rate fell to 3.6% from the 4.0%.
The labor force participation rate (the share of adults who are either working or looking for work) increased to 63.4% in January, the highest reading since early 2013. Participation among "prime-age" adults (25 to 54) hit 83.1%, the highest since the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008.
Meanwhile initial claims for unemployment insurance hit 202,000 in the last week of January, and initial claims as a percent of all jobs are at the lowest level ever. In other words, the job market and the economy look strong.
Only a few months ago, some analysts were saying that the inversion of the yield curve - with short-term interest rates above long-term rates - was signaling the front edge of a US recession. Now a recession seems nowhere in sight.
Lately, financial markets have become very jumpy on any news – good or bad – regarding the coronavirus. We aren't immunologists (or doctors) and would never make light of a virus that has killed more than 900 and infected over 40,000, but data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) cautiously suggests a positive turning point has been reached.
So far, the virus has had minimal impact outside of China, and the growth rate of new cases worldwide has slowed. Yes, these numbers must be taken with a grain of salt, given that the news is coming from China. But China's leaders have an interest in limiting the spread of the virus and the economic damage it causes, and they have allowed the WHO access.
China's President Xi Jinping has been able to accumulate more power than any leader since at least Deng Xiaoping, perhaps since Mao. We assume he is well aware that a major failure to contain the virus could give his political opponents an opening to vent their frustration with the current leadership, and perhaps push for change.