We've got the jobs, but show us the money

Economists expect that 230,000 jobs were created in November, but wage growth will likely remain elusive when the monthly jobs report is released Friday.

The unemployment rate is expected to be unchanged at 5.8 percent, according to Reuters. But Wall Street sees just a slight change in average hourly wages, rising 2.1 percent year-over-year, compared with 2 percent in October.

"I'm expecting it any day now. There are signs that wage growth is picking up," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. He expects jobs growth of 220,000 and an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent. "We are seeing wages pick up in trucking, in Texas, in places you'd expect to see it. The ADP data suggests wage growth is picking up. I think we'll see it by the spring."

Markets are focused on wages, even more in some ways than on the unemployment rate because the Fed wants to see wage growth as a sign of a healthier economy and inflation before it moves to raise interest rates.

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The Fed will want to see several months of rising wages, Zandi said. "They want to see a definite acceleration in wage growth before they actually pull the trigger and push rates higher. I think there is growing sentiment that appropriate risk management would suggest that they be absolutely sure we're off and running before they raise rates," he said.

A now hiring sign is posted in the window of a clothing store in San Francisco.
Getty Images
A now hiring sign is posted in the window of a clothing store in San Francisco.

Adrian Miller, director of fixed-income strategy at GMP, said he expects to see 250,000 jobs, well above consensus. "If we get 250,000 … that will feed the sooner rather than later expectation as to when the Fed will be forced to lift rates. Bonds will weaken, stocks will rally, the dollar will rally. The reverse will be true with a sub-230,000 number," he said.

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Zandi said he thinks there's a good chance the number could surprise to the upside, in part because of the volatility around holiday hiring, and this year is probably stronger than the past several years when it comes to retail hiring.

But others disagree. JPMorgan economists, for instance, expect to see just 200,000 nonfarm payrolls. "The main labor market indicators that we track point to continued solid growth in payrolls through November, but we believe the November data will be modestly softer than the recent trend largely based on the recent rise in jobless claims and our view that growth moderated in the fourth quarter," they wrote.

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Barclays also expects 200,000 jobs for November, due to "moderation in economic activity."

Miller said he is also watching for wage gains. "If you get 2.2 percent (annual), OK, we might get a little bit excited. A 2.1, 2.0 doesn't move the needle, but I think it's still inflation expectations and wage growth in the eyes of the Fed that trump the unemployment rate," he said. He said the Fed has become more concerned about the lack of price pressures and the quality of jobs, not just jobs gains.