Feb 6, 2020

Axios Markets

Dion Rabouin

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1 big thing: U.S. jobs growth may be going to another level
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Data: BLS, ADP; Chart: Axios Visuals

The job market looks to be picking up steam and shaking off any hints of the slowdown economists predicted would happen as employers got further away from the boost of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

What happened: ADP's private payrolls report showed the U.S. added 291,000 jobs in January, beating expectations by a wide margin for the second straight month. It was the report's best monthly gain since May 2015.

Why it matters: The unexpected surge suggests U.S. economic growth may not be slowing down and the expansion may be entering another phase of growth that leads to an unemployment rate below even the 50-year low seen in 2019 and further wage increases for American workers.

  • The economic recovery is already in its 11th year and is defying the orthodoxy of traditional economics that says job growth slows when the unemployment rate falls below 4%.
  • Despite firms' continued hiring and the highest wage growth in close to a decade, inflation has not risen above, or even to, the Fed's 2% target rate, allowing the central bank to keep interest rates low.

What they're saying: "We are starting a new positive trend," Steven Skancke, chief economic adviser for investment manager Keel Point and a former Treasury Department official, tells Axios. "I don’t think it’s an outlier and maybe some amount of this new trend is being boosted by the rebound of ending the [GM] automotive strike and the de-escalation of trade tensions."

Yes, but: The report may be a fluke or an outlier, warns Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi, who helped construct the report in concert with ADP.

  • "Growth is slowing," he tells Axios. "We’ve been barely growing 2% over the past year and the first part of this year is going to be weaker because of the [coronavirus outbreak] and the Boeing 737 MAX shutdown."

The big gains are largely the result of warmer weather this winter, Zandi argues, pointing out that job gains in ADP's survey were led by the leisure and hospitality sector.

  • Then there's the announcement from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that 501,000 fewer jobs were created between March 2018 to March 2019 than officials had initially estimated.

The bottom line: There is good reason to watch Friday's U.S. nonfarm payrolls report from the Labor Department.

  • The two have historically moved together, but in the last few months, ADP's report has moved in the opposite direction of the government's, most recently showing 202,000 jobs created in December, while the BLS report delivered an underwhelming 145,000.
2. Catch up quick

China will cut tariffs in half on hundreds of U.S. goods worth about $75 billion, cutting duties from 10% to 5% on some goods and from 5% to 2.5% on others. (CNBC)

Casper Sleep will IPO at $12 a share, well below its earlier expected range of between $17 and $19. Casper's valuation of roughly $476 million, excluding an underwriters’ allotment, is light-years below the $1.1 billion where it was last valued privately. (WSJ)

The DOJ and CFTC are building a criminal case against JPMorgan Chase, the bank itself, after accusing six of the bank's employees of rigging precious-metals futures. (Bloomberg)

The death toll from coronavirus in China jumped to 563 with 2,987 new confirmed cases of the virus just in Hubei province. (Reuters)

3. The Fed continues its digital currency push

The Fed is developing its own real-time payments and settlement service and reviewing 200 comment letters submitted late last year about the proposal, Fed governor Lael Brainard said in a speech Wednesday.

What's happening: Central banks around the world have been working to issue digital currencies amid a decline in the use of cash and an increase in dependence on commercial banks for payments. Private companies like Facebook and its Libra cryptocurrency also have spurred central banks into action.

Why it matters: "Today, it can take a few days to get access to your funds," Brainard said in her speech. "A real-time retail payments infrastructure would ensure the funds are available immediately — to pay utility bills or split the rent with roommates, or for small business owners to pay their suppliers."

  • "Immediate access to funds could be especially important for households on fixed incomes or living paycheck to paycheck when waiting days for the funds to be available to pay a bill can mean overdraft fees or late fees that can compound."
  • "To make this possible, it is vital to invest in real-time retail payments infrastructure with national reach."

The big picture: The private sector already is amassing holdings of the public's money that is larger than many banks, she said, highlighting Paypal, Walmart and Starbucks as companies that currently hold billions of dollars of their customers' money on various cards and accounts.

The last word: "Although various federal and state laws establish protections for users, issuers of nonbank money are not regulated to the same extent as banks, the value stored in these systems is not insured directly by the FDIC, and consumers may be at risk that the issuer will not be able to honor its liabilities."

4. Millennials' housing anxieties

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Axios' Kim Hart writes: A majority of millennials feel behind financially and are not optimistic about their financial future, according to a new survey from Bank of America.

Why it matters: Millennials are nearly twice as likely as baby boomers to worry often about their finances. Homeownership tops the list of anxieties — 20% say not being able to afford a home is the top financial stressor.

Of millennials with savings, 32% are saving to buy a first or different home.

  • Younger generations prioritize homeownership even more: 41% of Gen Z and 40% of younger millennials are saving to buy a home.

Yes, but: Debt is a big hurdle. Excluding home loans, 16% of millennials owe $50,000 or more. 42% say debt is keeping them from buying a first or nicer home.

That's forcing a practical mindset, per the survey.

  • 82% would rather buy a smaller, more affordable home.
  • Single millennials are more likely to choose to fund a down payment on a home (82%) over having their dream wedding (12%).
  • When asked what they would be most likely to do with a $10,000 windfall, 40% would pay down debt, with 20% saying they'd put it toward a new home or invest in their current home.

One surprising thing: One-quarter of millennials have at least $100,000 in savings, which is a 16% increase from two years ago, per the survey.

5. Retailers are guzzling data just like tech giants

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Axios' Erica Pandey writes: Much of the debate around data privacy has centered on the tech giants that are collecting consumer data, but retailers are formidable data guzzlers, too.

Why it matters: The places we shop track us in stores and online and use those troves of data to get us to spend more money. "I think it would be wise if everyone stopped thinking of retailers as retailers and started thinking of them as tech companies," Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute, tells Axios.

The big picture: Many retailers are racing against one another to learn even more information about their customers.

  • We've invited Amazon into our homes with smart speakers and doorbells — and it can use all of the data collected through those devices to get smarter about what we want to buy.
  • Walmart is piloting a grocery delivery service through which it sends an associate into your home who stocks your fridge for you.
  • A Target spokesperson told WSJ: “When we know more about our guests, we can provide them with customized offers and make their shopping experience easier and more convenient."
  • On top of that, retailers' hunger for data has spurred the founding of a host of startups that are exclusively focused on infusing more tech into shopping.
Dion Rabouin

Lonnie Johnson is a former aerospace engineer for NASA, who worked on the Galileo Jupiter probe and Mars Observer project and the Johnson Thermoelectric Energy Converter, which converts heat directly into electricity.

  • But he is best known for his most popular invention — the Super Soaker water gun (yes, that Super Soaker), which he developed while working with the U.S. Air Force and patented in 1983. Johnson also worked on the Air Force's stealth bomber program.
  • As one of the few black engineers in his space, in 2013 he teamed up with scientists from Tulane University and Tuskegee University to develop a method of transforming heat into electricity with the goal of making green energy more affordable.