U.S. Non-Farm Payrolls: Just A Soft Patch?

If there’s anything more disappointing than the Miami Heat’s 2-point win in Game 3, it’s the results of the U.S. Non-Farm Payrolls (NFP) report for May. Net hiring rose by a mere 54,000 during the month, which was way less than the projected 161,000 increase. Come to think of it, the forecast was already revised downwards from the 194,000 consensus yet the actual figure still fell short!

It doesn’t help that the NFP figure for the previous month also took a hit since it was downgraded from 244,000 to 232,000. Thanks to all these disappointing jobs figures, the U.S. unemployment rate climbed a notch to 9.1%, its highest reading since December.

Components of the jobs report revealed that the bleak NFP figure was caused by a slowdown in private sector hiring, which added only 83,000 jobs during the month. Even worse, the U.S. government had to lay off 29,000 workers in May as part of their budget-cutting measures.

How much worse can it get from this point onwards?

Well, some economic seers seem to think that the downturn in hiring is merely a temporary blip. Since some of the job losses are blamed on the spike in gasoline prices and the supply chain disruptions from the Japan quake, they predict that the U.S. labor market will be back on its feet in no time. Now that sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

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But what if the U.S. economy‘s “soft patch” is actually a warning for the hard reality of an economic downturn? After all, haven’t we seen weak economic reports from a lot of indicators in the past week alone?

Last Tuesday we saw the S&P house price index register a drop of 4.2% in the first quarter, which puts home price levels to a nine-year low. What’s more, that’s a bigger drop than the decline during the Great Depression!

If falling house prices isn’t enough to show that consumers are getting jumpy about the economy, then last week’s CB consumer confidence report ought to convince you. Apparently, consumers are showing more pessimism towards business conditions, job availability, and job growth. As a result, the data dropped from its 66.0 figure in April to a 6-month low reading of 60.8 in May.

With weak economic reports popping left and right in the U.S. economy, I’m betting my neighbor’s cat that the U.S. lawmakers are now facing more pressure than the last time they had to sing at a karaoke bar.

See, word around the hood is that market geeks had already revised their interest rate hike expectations for the Fed. Though a month’s worth of data doesn’t make a trend, a few analysts now believe that the Fed will start to consider a QE3, and won’t hike its interest rates until at least the second half of the year.

Of course, Helicopter Ben and his gang aren’t alone in the hot seat! Even U.S. President Obama and his Democratic peeps are facing increased pressure from their critics. Continued weakness in employment figures and other key indicators could put the “t” in Obama’s “Yes We Can” re-election campaign next year, while the weak economic reports could also weigh on the Democrat’s battle to increase the country’s debt ceiling.

So, do you think we’re looking at a temporary blip, or are we staring at a bigger, longer-term economic problem for the U.S.? I’m not so sure myself, but I do know that the lawmakers better act soon before we see more investors lose confidence in Uncle Sam!