Haver Analytics
Haver Analytics
| May 10 2023

Wage Cycle Extends the Tightening Cycle

The wage cycle is a critical factor in the scale and length of the Fed tightening cycle. Based on the current wage data, history says the tightening cycle has yet to reach its peak rate, and the duration of the higher official rate cycle could extend much farther than the markets expect.

The thinking behind the Fed hiking rates to break the inflation cycle is straightforward: lift rates to a prohibitive high enough level that curtails or breaks the willingness to borrow and spend. Each tightening cycle is different, and the scale and length often depend on wage and income growth.

One traditional way to determine if higher rates are prohibitively high is to compare them to inflation. That helps determine the real borrowing costs for businesses since the price is what firms get for their products and services. Yet, to measure the real borrowing costs for consumers, one needs to compare interest rates to wages since the latter is the worker's price.

In April, and for the first time since the Fed started to raise official rates in March 2022, the gap between Fed funds and wage growth was closed. That's the good news. The bad news is that the tightening cycles of the late 80s, 90s, and mid-2000s ended when official rates were several hundred basis points over the wage growth. So history would say the Fed tightening cycle is far from over, and the April wage and jobs data lends credence to that view.

Still, policymakers may pause and gauge the lagged effects from the scale of the tightening to date. Lagged effects from monetary tightening are adverse and build over time. Still, the overall stance of monetary policy must be tight or restrictive for them to generate the negative economic and financial results policymakers want to achieve.

Up to this point, the policy stance shifted from less accommodative to neutral. That helps to explain why cyclical sectors (motor vehicle sales in April were the highest in nearly two years, and housing activity has perked up) showed renewed momentum. More rate hikes will be needed to break the momentum in cyclical industries.

  • Joseph G. Carson, Former Director of Global Economic Research, Alliance Bernstein.   Joseph G. Carson joined Alliance Bernstein in 2001. He oversaw the Economic Analysis team for Alliance Bernstein Fixed Income and has primary responsibility for the economic and interest-rate analysis of the US. Previously, Carson was chief economist of the Americas for UBS Warburg, where he was primarily responsible for forecasting the US economy and interest rates. From 1996 to 1999, he was chief US economist at Deutsche Bank. While there, Carson was named to the Institutional Investor All-Star Team for Fixed Income and ranked as one of Best Analysts and Economists by The Global Investor Fixed Income Survey. He began his professional career in 1977 as a staff economist for the chief economist’s office in the US Department of Commerce, where he was designated the department’s representative at the Council on Wage and Price Stability during President Carter’s voluntary wage and price guidelines program. In 1979, Carson joined General Motors as an analyst. He held a variety of roles at GM, including chief forecaster for North America and chief analyst in charge of production recommendations for the Truck Group. From 1981 to 1986, Carson served as vice president and senior economist for the Capital Markets Economics Group at Merrill Lynch. In 1986, he joined Chemical Bank; he later became its chief economist. From 1992 to 1996, Carson served as chief economist at Dean Witter, where he sat on the investment-policy and stock-selection committees.   He received his BA and MA from Youngstown State University and did his PhD coursework at George Washington University. Honorary Doctorate Degree, Business Administration Youngstown State University 2016. Location: New York.

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