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Rate hike? Fed dependent on jobs data

Even as the International Monetary Fund has suggested the Federal Reserve delay a rate hike until the first half of 2016, the Fed has told us, repeatedly, that it is data, not date, dependent. The Fed has not suggested, in any way, that it is dependent on outside advice either, irrespective of the IMF's good intentions.

Now, maybe the IMF thinks Greece will default on its external debt, exit the euro zone and spark a global financial crisis.

Even a modest rate hike from the Fed, under those circumstances, could add gasoline to an already roaring fire.



Job seekers fill out applications at the Choice Career Fair in San Antonio.
Matthew Busch | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Job seekers fill out applications at the Choice Career Fair in San Antonio.

But, absent that, the Fed may be more dependent on tomorrow's jobs data than any other influence, either domestic or international.

ADP said the economy created 201,000 jobs last month, while economists expect the official tally of job creation, to be released Friday at 8:30 a.m. EDT, could show job creation of 220,000 new positions, with estimates ranging from 190,000 new jobs to 289,000. The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at a multi-year low of 5.4 percent.

The risk, of course, is that job creation continues to decelerate, supporting the IMF's request for a delayed rate hike.

But the evidence on employment, overall, has largely continued to improve, despite the first quarter "soft patch."

First-time jobless claims remain at levels consistent with job growth, holding at 276,000 new claims, as reported this morning. In addition, the Employment Cost Index is advancing at a 2.7 percent annual rate, consistent with historical levels that presaged rate hikes in prior economic cycles.

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Of course, this recovery is unlike prior recoveries in that underemployment, housing and other aspects of the economy have not risen to levels consistent with interest rate normalization.

In as much as I have altered my view of when, and whether, the Fed should raise interest rates … I recently argued that the Fed has room to begin the normalization process in September … it may turn out to be a tougher call than I recently envisioned.

The rapid spike in worldwide interest rates, albeit from historic lows, is rattling financial markets worldwide. Emerging market rates are jumping as much as those of Continental Europe, further complicating the global implications of a near-term hike by the Fed.

Having said that, global bond markets appear to be suggesting that the worst of the deflationary scare may be behind us. The Fed should take that into account when deliberating on policy.

Inflation in the euro zone has turned positive, and while price pressures in the U.S. are not yet accelerating, the recent rebound In oil and gasoline, and the renewed weakness in the dollar, could push headline inflation toward the Fed's 2 percent target sooner rather than later.

I am hardly an inflation hawk, nor do I believe there is great urgency for the Fed to raise rates anytime before September. However, if job growth accelerates, hourly earnings rise more rapidly and the labor force participation rate finally begins to rebound, then the Fed could have the domestic ammunition it needs to begin normalizing policy.

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If, on the other hand, job gains come in below 200,000, it will take that much longer for the Fed to reach its employment and inflation goals clearly delineated in recent weeks and months.

If the Fed is, indeed, going to move in September, as many expect, expectations for job growth had better jump above 300,000, or if the data don't overwhelm analysts or the Fed, it could be that the September bet is a losing one.

Commentary by Ron Insana, a CNBC and MSNBC contributor and the author of four books on Wall Street. He is also editor of "Insana's Market Intellgence," available at Marketfy.com. Follow him on Twitter @rinsana.