‘Two steps forward, one step back’ as stocks bemoan yet another strong jobs report: Here’s what experts say about Powell’s next step in the big inflation fight

A welder works on an overpass on the Irving Interchange infrastructure project at the site of the former Dallas Cowboys Stadium on August 10, 2022 in Irving, Texas.
A welder works on an overpass in Irving, Tex.
John Moore—Getty Images

When a strong jobs report comes across the desk of the Federal Reserve’s chairman, it’s normally cause for celebration.

After all, Fed officials have two main duties in their role managing the U.S. central bank—maintain price stability for everything bought and sold in the economy and ensure “maximum employment.” 

But these aren’t normal times. And Fed Chair Jerome Powell likely wasn’t pleased with what he saw in November’s better-than-expected jobs report, experts told Fortune.

The U.S. economy added 263,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate remained near pre-pandemic lows at 3.7%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

Wage growth surprised economists as well, rising 0.6% on the month and 5.1% from a year ago.

While these are positive signs of the resilience in the U.S. labor market, the Fed has been laser-focused on fighting inflation by raising interest rates. And November’s jobs report implies Fed officials may have more work to do, as its previous rate hikes have yet to achieve their goal of substantially cooling the economy.

That could be bad news for investors who have been hoping the central bank would pause its interest rate hikes, or even pivot to rate cuts, amid signs inflation peaked in June.

Fortune reached out to chief economists, investment officers, and business leaders to get their views on the latest jobs report and what it means for Powell’s inflation fight and for the stock market.

Here’s what they had to say:


Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter

  • “The jobs report soundly beat expectations, with job gains broadly spread across the economy and about 60% higher than the 2019 monthly average.”
  • “Wage growth came in twice as high as expected, and sent the stock market into a tailspin. The current pace of wage growth is incompatible with the Fed’s inflation target and raised the likelihood that the Fed would keep interest rates elevated for longer.” 

Bill Adams, chief economist at Comerica Bank

  • “Businesses continue to hire even as the overall pace of economic activity cools… An increase in part-time work as more people take on side hustles to make ends meet buoyed the headline payrolls number in November.”
  • “In all, the labor market remains tight and wage growth picked up in November. The Fed will see these data as affirming the need for additional interest rate hikes despite signs of a weakening economy from business and consumer surveys.”

Gregory Daco and Lydia Boussour, EY-Parthenon’s chief economist and senior economist

  • “The fact that wage growth accelerated back above the 5% mark is a concerning development for the inflation outlook and will all but reinforce the Fed’s hawkish stance.”
  • “The labor market is still hot, but winter is coming… Payroll growth has now decelerated from 418,000 jobs per month on average in the first three quarters of the year to 272,000 in the past three months.”
  • “Our conversations with executives point to a more meaningful deterioration in labor market trends in coming months as companies face weaker sales domestically and abroad, continued cost pressures, and tighter financing conditions. We continue to anticipate a U.S. recession in early 2023.”

Investment officers

Yung-Yu Ma, chief investment strategist at BMO Wealth Management

  • “The equity market looks set to struggle on the triple whammy of stronger job growth, accelerating wage growth, and reduced labor force participation.”
  • “Chairman Powell’s speech earlier in the week was interpreted with a dovish lens, but that spin is likely to be reassessed based on the jobs report. The FOMC has a mixture of hawks and doves, and this report certainly gives more ammunition to the hawks.”
  • “While recent data indicates a decline in inflation, the Fed is unlikely to be convinced of the durability of that decline until the labor market is much more into balance.”

Rick Rieder, BlackRock’s chief investment officer of global fixed income and head of global allocation investment

  • “Today’s much-anticipated jobs report was another indicator of a labor market that is still filled with job openings, which remain well in excess of available labor (in fact, the ratio of job openings to unemployed is at 1.7).”
  • “Additionally, the unemployment rate remained unchanged and absent signs of greater deterioration in initial and continuing claims for unemployment insurance, we believe the unemployment figure will remain in a range for now.”
  • “We think much of the economic data being released of late, when coupled with the recently better inflation data is providing an ample backdrop for the Fed to moderate rate hiking and eventually get to a pause.”
  • “The Fed’s desire to slow down its rate hikes, but then to keep rates high/restrictive for a while to let the policy ‘marinate’ through the system strikes us as a very prudent path. This week witnessed the markets applauding such a direction of travel and today’s employment report does little to change that.”

Tim Holland, chief investment officer at Orion Advisor Solutions 

  • “The better-than-expected jobs report is good news for the American worker, and bad news, at least short-term, for risk assets as it supports a hawkish monetary policy by the U.S. Federal Reserve.” 
  • “That said, it is worth noting that the jobs report is backward-looking, and that continuing jobless claims have been climbing.  There is a good chance the labor market will slow meaningfully in the first half of 2023, forcing the Fed to consider a much more benign policy stance sooner than many expect.”

Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist for Allianz Investment Management

  • “Two steps forward, one step back, is the nonlinear path the economic data resembles as the Fed marches towards their goal of squashing inflation. Today’s labor market figures were certainly one step back for the Fed with payrolls of 263K exceeding estimates significantly.”
  • “Overall, the Fed has made significant steps to slow the economy, but today’s employment report is a sign that they are not out of the woods yet and we expect additional policy tightening measures to continue into next year.”

Business Leaders

Jay Hatfield, CEO of Infrastructure Capital Partners

  • “The November employment report was strong…in the hospitality, education, health care and government [sectors].  There was no sign of the tech layoffs in the report with information tech adding 19,000 jobs.”
  • “The report was negative for both stocks and bonds with stocks off 1.5% and bonds down a full point.  The negative reaction is appropriate as the Fed is almost exclusively focused on the labor market tightness as the key driver of inflation.”
  • “The Fed’s almost exclusive focus on the labor market is the main reason that the Fed has proven to be a terrible forecaster of inflation.”
  • “The key driver of inflation, actually, was excessive money supply… This year the money supply has declined 17%, causing mortgage rates to skyrocket and commodity prices to drop over 30%.”
  • “The decline in inflation will force the Fed to drop their ‘entrenched’ theory during the first six months of 2023 and cause the stock and bond markets to rally.”

Greg Bassuk, founder and CEO of AXS Investments

  • “After a strong November for equities, this jobs number might force investors to pump the brakes on their recent enthusiasm for stocks.”
  • “Recession fears may be dwindling with a persistent strong labor market but climbing interest rates do create near-term headwinds for equities.”
  • “The wage data continues to push for a heightened inflation outlook… Inflation may be past its peak but these numbers do put pressure on investors to keep an eye on how rising prices may impact their portfolio.”

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