May 02, 2022
😕 Look, it's Monday. Let's just get it into it.
Today's newsletter, edited by Kate Marino, is 1,195 words, 4.5 minutes.
1 big thing: Politics ensnares Fed regional banks
Regional Federal Reserve banks, the often below-the-radar overseers of the nation's financial plumbing, are facing intense new political pressures, Axios' Neil Irwin writes.
- Most notably, the Senate Banking Committee's top Republican, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, has accused the reserve banks of "mission creep" in focusing research on areas he sees as outside the Fed's responsibility, including climate change, inequality and racial justice.
Why it matters: If Republicans win one or both chambers of Congress in November, look for an escalation of the attacks — and the possibility of fundamental changes to the century-old political balancing act that distributes the central bank's power across the country.
- Fed leaders are at work on new guidance, to be issued in the coming weeks, meant to clarify restrictions on Fed banks' work that could be seen as taking sides in partisan issues and culture wars.
The backstory: The Fed regional banks' unusual structure makes them the duck-billed platypus of the U.S. government.
- They carry out government policy and are closely overseen by the Board of Governors in Washington, yet they have their own boards of directors comprised of local business people, bankers and civic figures.
- Reserve bank staff spend their days ensuring that the nation's checks clear, electronic payments are fast and secure, supervising banks, and even making sure there is plenty of physical cash available for those banks to fill their vaults and ATMs.
- Each reserve bank also acts as something of a regional economic think tank, producing research that informs how its president votes on monetary policy, as well as on matters of particular interest to its community.
State of play: Toomey has sharply criticized the Minneapolis Fed for publishing research on educational inequality and called the banks' efforts to promote those findings essentially taking a side in a Minnesota state ballot initiative on education funding.
- He also criticized the San Francisco Fed for research efforts into the economic risks of climate change and racial inequality.
The other side: Some Fed leaders believe one strength of the reserve banks has been that they can research and publish with independence from political meddling.
- In this telling, it is Toomey and his allies undermining the central bank's independence by trying to make some topics off-limits.
What to watch: Toomey has threatened to push legislation applying more stringent information disclosure laws on the reserve banks, make their leaders political appointees, or even eliminate or consolidate them.
The bottom line: While climate change, education and inequality may be politically sensitive topics, there is little question they affect the economy. The open question is how much of a role if any the nation’s central bank should have in debating them.
2. Catch up quick
3. Worst month for stocks since 2020
The stock market fell off the ugly tree in April, hitting every branch on the way down, Matt writes.
Driving the news: The closing bell on Friday marked the end of a nasty day, a dismal week, and a miserable month in what's turning into a horrible year for the S&P 500.
- The benchmark U.S. index lost 3.6% on the day, pushing it down 8.8% for the month. That's the worst monthly decline since the COVID crisis hit in early 2020.
- The index is down 13.3% this year. A full-year performance like that would be the market's worst showing since 2008.
- The selloff in the tech-heavy Nasdaq was even worse in April, as it collapsed by 13.3%. Large-cap technology stocks, which hold large sway in the market-cap-weighted S&P 500, were also key drivers of the S&P's plunge.
What's going on: It's the Fed. Expectations of an aggressive campaign of rate hikes — the central bank is expected to raise interest rates by half a percentage point on Wednesday — collided with growing worries about the health of the economy and corporate profits.
- China's anti-COVID lockdowns — and their impact on the world's second-largest economy and global supply chains — are also turning into a big concern.
What we're watching: Fed chair Jerome Powell's press conference on Wednesday. If he talks tougher still on inflation and hints at a faster pace of rate hikes, an awful April could be followed by a miserable May.
4. The most important data in the job listing
Job listings could get much more interesting in New York City this fall. Starting Nov. 1, employers will be required to post the maximum and minimum salary for a role, so you can actually know how much a job pays before you take that interview, Emily writes.
Why it matters: Salary transparency is believed to be a way to diminish unfair gender and racial pay disparities, and more states and cities are doing it.
- Colorado's law went into effect last year, and Washington State just passed its own legislation. Around a dozen more states are mulling laws.
- But NYC is a highly competitive labor market, so what happens there will be influential.
The intrigue: New York's law was supposed to go into effect this month, but late last week, the date was pushed back after businesses objected.
What they're saying: Business groups had argued that this law couldn't come at a worse time when the competition for workers is hot and they want maximum flexibility on pay. Plus, they said it would put small businesses that pay less at a disadvantage.
- Advocates for equal pay argued that employers still have a lot of flexibility to post high maximums and low minimums.
- Salary range data was ranked the most important piece of the job description, according to a recent LinkedIn study.
Zoom out: In industries like the public sector where salaries are publicly available, gender wage gaps are more narrow.
Our thought bubble: Pay transparency in job listings gives applicants more information to negotiate pay, but to truly move the needle on the pay gap, requiring companies to report internal pay data — happening already in the United Kingdom — could be even more impactful.
Are you an employer scrambling to figure out how to comply with this new rule? Email me.
5. Let's talk about pay some more
Average compensation is up this year for everyone, but for most workers wage increases are getting erased by record-high inflation, Emily writes.
- Not for the lowest-income workers, though. These folks are actually seeing big increases in pay.
The big picture: Total compensation for all workers in the U.S. in Q1 was up 4.5% from last year, according to the Employment Cost Index released Friday. It is a measure of how much employers pay for workers' wages and benefits.
- Total comp in the leisure and hospitality sector rose 8.4% year over year.
Flashback: In March 2020, leisure and hospitality workers were absolutely crushed by widespread lockdowns. Millions lost their jobs or showed up to empty bars and restaurants and went home with meager tips.
- The fact that these workers are seeing big wage increases makes intuitive sense: A lot of places have had to rehire entirely new staff — and new hires typically see bigger wage increases, as data from the Atlanta Fed wage tracker shows.