North American markets mixed on hot new U.S. employment data

It was a mixed day for North American markets Friday, as investors tried to understand what a surprisingly hot U.S. jobs report says about the overall economy as well as what it could mean for central bankers looking to put the brakes on inflation.

The S&P/TSX composite index was up 43.09 points at 19,620.13, while in New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 76.65 points at 32,803.47. The S&P 500 index was down 6.75 points at 4,145.19, while the Nasdaq composite was down 63.02 points at 12,657.56.

With few other data releases or market-moving events to digest this summer Friday, the eyes of investors were largely focused on the latest monthly employment figures for the U.S. and Canada.

South of the border, the July report from the U.S. Labour Department was a shocker. The country added 528,000 jobs in the month, more than double the 250,000 economists had expected, making July the hottest month for U.S. job gains since February.

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U.S. unemployment dropped another notch, from 3.6 per cent to 3.5 per cent, matching the more than 50-year low reached just before the pandemic took hold.

The numbers paint a picture of a U.S. economy that is not slowing down, and that makes it more likely that the Federal Reserve will continue along its monetary tightening path _ likely with another interest rate hike of up to three-quarters of a percentage point in September, said Anish Chopra, managing director with Portfolio Managing Corp.

“There were investors who were anticipating that the Fed would pivot, meaning that at one point the Federal Reserve would stop raising rates and in fact reduce them,” Chopra said. “But given the strong reading today, it’s unlikely that we’ll get the U.S. Federal Reserve reducing interest rates anytime soon.”

In Canada, the jobs picture was more subdued. In fact, Statistics Canada said Friday that the Canadian economy lost 31,000 jobs in July, marking the second month of employment losses in a row in this country.

But the Canadian unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 per cent in July, the lowest since comparable record-keeping began in 1976, Statistics Canada said. Chopra said that makes it unlikely that the Bank of Canada will be swayed from its current path of interest rate increases either.

“When you look at the strong backdrop with the high price of oil, the Canadian economy still moving along … it’s likely the Bank of Canada will continue along its path to increase interest rates,” he said. “So regardless of the fact that Canada lost jobs in the last couple of months, investors are looking to the fact that the Bank of Canada will likely continue on its rate-tightening path.”

Bond yields immediately moved higher in the wake of Friday’s jobs reports. Chopra said another very important data release is coming next Wednesday, when the latest U.S. consumer price index figures will give an indication of whether inflation shows any sign of having peaked.

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On the equities side, investors have welcomed what has been a better-than-expected second-quarter earnings season for U.S. and Canadian companies. But along with inflation and central bank rate hikes comes the risk that the economy will tip into recession, harming corporate profits and returns to shareholders.

Chopra said in the coming weeks and months, investors will be watching to see if any corporations issue third-quarter earnings warnings _ which would be a sign that the economy is heading into dangerous territory.

“It does take some time for raising interest rates to have an impact on companies and economies,” he said.

The Canadian dollar traded for 77.32 cents US compared with 77.80 cents US on Thursday.

The September crude contract was up 47 cents at US$89.01 per barrel and the September natural gas contract was down six cents at US$8.06.

The slight gain in oil prices came after what has been a rough week for crude. The benchmark West Texas Intermediate price slumped below $90 for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this week, due to what some analysts have called the beginning of “demand destruction” due to months of high prices.

Canadian energy stocks felt the impact of the decline in oil prices, with the S&P/TSX capped energy index down 9.5 per cent from the start of the week.

The December gold contract was down US$15.70 at US$1,791.20 an ounce and the September copper contract was up seven cents at US$3.55 a pound.

– With files from The Associated Press

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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