Is the U.S. economy at a tipping point?

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The U.S. economy hit the pause button this spring.

On Friday, the world will learn if that was just a blip or if there are legitimate cracks in the economy when the Labor Department releases the June jobs report at 8:30 am E.T. CNNMoney’s survey of economists projects 177,000 job gains in June. That would be a massive rebound from May when the U.S. added a mere 38,000 jobs.

The May slowdown was a red flag. It was unexpected. If hiring continues to be low, it’s a bad sign because it means businesses are really scaling back and consumers might follow their lead and pull back on spending.

But fear not. Every expert surveyed by CNNMoney predicts hiring picked up in June. They think May was a fluke. Tens of thousands of Verizon workers were on strike that month, so they were counted as unemployed. And the mild winter weather across much of the U.S. could have accelerated a lot of the usual spring hiring to earlier in the year.

“As long as job gains get back above 100,000 a month, then that will help alleviate concerns that what we saw in the spring was a sharp slowing in the U.S. economy,” says HSBC economist Ryan Wang.

Here’s what to watch for in the Friday jobs report. Another really lousy month could trigger a stock market sell-off because of fears of a slowdown — or even recession. But a really strong jobs report could also leave Wall Street antsy because it increases the likelihood the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year.

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1. Are job gains above 135,000? — Anything above 100,000 would be considered a fairly healthy hiring month, but there’s a catch: 35,000 Verizon employees ended their strike and went back to work. Those workers will be counted as “new” jobs under the Labor Department’s rules, so economists and traders will be looking for job gains over 135,000. A quick scan of forecasts shows just how strong expectations are:

CNNMoney projects 177,000 jobs added in June.

FactSet estimates 180,000

Crowd sourcing platform Estimize projects 167,000

Goldman Sachs (GS) forecasts 210,000

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2. Unemployment still at 4.7% — The U.S. unemployment rate is very low. Some say America is at — or near — full employment. CNNMoney’s survey of economists projects the unemployment rate will remain at 4.7%. If it rises to 4.8% that wouldn’t be a bad thing because it could signal that more people are looking for work again.

3. Wage growth ticks up to 2.6% — Americans have been saying, “Show me the money!” They want raises. Typically when unemployment is this low, wages are growing at 3.5% or so a year. But wages have been sluggish in this recovery. They finally rose to 2.5% in May. CNNMoney expects another notch up to 2.6% in June, a positive step that is small enough it would be unlikely to trigger much broader inflation.

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4. Federal Reserve: 0 or 1 rate hikes in 2016? — The stock market has been driven largely by two concerns lately: Brexit and what the Federal Reserve is going to do with interest rates. The Fed went on hold in June after the weak jobs report in May and uncertainty about what would happen with the Brexit vote. The Fed still expects to raise interest rates two more times in 2016, but the economists and traders aren’t so sure.

CNNMoney’s survey of economists now forecasts just one rate hike in 2016 — likely in December after the election. The market, however, doesn’t expect any increases until next year. A weak June jobs report will reinforce the belief the Fed is on hold for the rest of the year. A stronger report leaves the door open for one or even two.

“We believe that the probability of another Federal Reserve rate hike this year is very low,” said Ken Johnson Global Research Analyst at Wells Fargo in a note Thursday.

CNNMoney (New York) First published July 7, 2016: 3:27 PM ET



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