CALABASAS, CA—Amid what Marcus & Millichap terms “a chaotic opening week” to the new year, the December job numbers served as “much needed reassurance that the US expansion remains on solid ground,” in the view of Cushman & Wakefield‘s Ken McCarthy. The 292,000 jobs added nationally last month capped the strongest year for hiring since 1999. Nonetheless, according to MMI’s latest Research Brief, “volatile global equity markets and concerns over China serve as a reminder that potential disruptions to US economic growth persist and that the path forward contains hidden obstacles.”
In a speech in Atlanta earlier his week, Keith Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said as much. “”The downside risks relate mostly to the influence of the rest of the world on our economy,” Reuters quoted Lockhart as saying. Lockhart told a Rotary Club audience that he remained “mildly optimistic” that strong domestic consumption would help spur US GDP growth of as much as 2.5% this year, enough to push the economy to full employment and eventually boost inflation.
In the meantime, December’s employment figures topped a “strong year of job creation,” according to MMI. “The vigor of the US labor market evident throughout 2015 will enable the Federal Reserve to place greater weight on inflation trends in guiding its monetary policy decisions this year.”
MMI cites several gauges of labor-market slack that ended the year “and thus will provide confidence to Fed policymakers. The underemployment rate registered 9.9% in December, marking the third consecutive month with a reading of less than 10%, the first such occurrence since 2008. Moreover, according to the MMI, “The number of workers who could find only part-time work also fell for the second consecutive year” in ’15, providing evidence of “greater employer willingness to make long-term commitments that was not evident in the early phases of the current expansion.”
Principal economist and applied research lead with C&W, McCarthy sees several important signs in the December jobs report commercial real estate. “Employment in the key office-using sectors (financial, information and professional and business services) increased by 100,000 jobs in December and by 237,000 over the fourth quarter,” McCarthy writes in C&W’s US Employment Tracker for January.
Given the typical three-month lag between jobs and absorption, office owners should be looking at roughly 20 million to 25 million square feet of demand during Q1. “In other words, the latest employment figures suggest the US is on track to have one of its strongest quarters of office absorption in the current cycle,” writes McCarthy. “Likewise, the strong job gains in manufacturing and the transportation/warehousing sectors point to a strengthening trajectory in demand for industrial space while the anticipated increase in consumer spending should boost demand for retail space during 2016.”
In view of the Fed’s greater emphasis on inflation in its latest remarks, McCarthy observes that December’s employment data does little to tip the scales in terms of a March interest rate hike. “The odds are now below 40%, according to the fed funds futures,” he writes.
A decline of nearly 5% in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the first week of trading was “not exactly the start we were looking for” to ’16, writes McCarthy. “But with job numbers like these, it is very difficult to make the case that the US economy or the property markets are in any imminent trouble.”