Axios Macro

A white telescope

The Federal Reserve began its two-day policy meeting this morning; we'll be coming to you tomorrow afternoon with the results of their deliberations.

  • In the meantime, one more positive inflation indicator arrived this morning, just before the Fed convened. And in case you missed the news last night, the International Monetary Fund is a now a little less gloomy about the 2023 outlook.

Today's newsletter, edited by Javier E. David, is 584 words, a 2.5-minute read.

1 big thing: The one-off surge in worker pay

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

A major undercurrent of last year's entire economic policy debate has been this question: Is compensation for American workers spiraling upward because of a tight job market destined to fuel inflation?

  • New data points decidedly toward "no."

Why it matters: If wage inflation continues to fade — admittedly, a big if — the Fed will be able to declare victory on inflation without engineering a steep economic contraction.

  • It looks increasingly like the surge in worker compensation, in late 2021 and early 2022, was a one-time bump rather than the beginning of an upward wage spiral.

Driving the news: The Employment Cost Index, the gold standard of measures of worker compensation (more on why below), rose 1% in the final three months of 2022, below the 1.2% analysts had expected.

  • Growth in total compensation had its recent peak in the first quarter of 2022, at 1.4%, then rose more slowly in each subsequent quarter.
  • Put differently, compensation rose at a 5.8% annual rate in the first three months of 2022, and a 4% annual rate in the final three months of the year.

The intrigue: What's remarkable about the downshift is that it occurred even as the job market remained extremely tight — by some measures even tightening further over the course of 2022.

  • The unemployment rate averaged 3.6% in Q4, below the 3.8% of Q1. The Phillips Curve, a linchpin of economic policy, would predict the opposite: that a lower unemployment rate would coincide with faster compensation growth.
  • The breakdown of those relationships in the last year supports the idea that the 2021-22 job market is experiencing unusual disruptions emanating from the pandemic, rather than behaving in the way conventional economic models would predict.

Between the lines: The deceleration in wage growth has been seen in other measures of compensation, including average hourly earnings in the monthly jobs report and the Atlanta Fed's wage growth tracker.

  • But the Fed will take extra comfort from seeing the same thing happen in ECI numbers, which captures the value of both wages and benefits, and adjusts for shifts in occupations and industries.

What they're saying: "The debate about wage growth is over: it is coming down," wrote Nick Bunker, head of economic research at the Indeed Hiring Lab.

  • "The question is now when and how this descent ends," he said. "The prospect of the labor market further fueling inflation is now diminishing, something the Federal Reserve should and will consider."

2. IMF joins the soft-landing party

IMF officials release the World Economic Outlook

IMF officials release their latest World Economic Outlook in Singapore. Photo: Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images.

The International Monetary Fund has been in 'mark-down' mode for the last year — that is, repeatedly lowering its forecasts for the global economy. Not anymore.

Driving the news: The fund's World Economic Outlook, released last night U.S. time, upgraded its world GDP forecast by 0.2 percentage points, and is now forecasting 2.9% global growth in 2023.

  • The fund anticipates 1.4% U.S. growth this year, up 0.4 percentage points from its October projections. It did mark down 2024 U.S. growth prospects, however.

What they're saying: Despite headwinds, "the outlook is less gloomy than in our October forecast, and could represent a turning point, with growth bottoming out and inflation declining," wrote IMF chief economist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas.

  • "The inflation news is encouraging, but the battle is far from won," added Gourinchas.

Yes, but: The outlook is more grim for Britain. The fund sees the U.K. economy shrinking 0.6% this year, the only large economy projected to experience a contraction, "reflecting tighter fiscal and monetary policies and financial conditions and still-high energy retail prices weighing on household budgets."