Sunday, December 31, 2017

Question #6 for 2018: How much will wages increase in 2018?

by Bill McBride on 12/31/2017 08:11:00 AM

Earlier I posted some questions for next year: Ten Economic Questions for 2018. I'm adding some thoughts, and maybe some predictions for each question.

6) Real Wage Growth: Wage growth picked up in 2016 (up 2.9%), but slowed in 2017 (up 2.5% year-over-year in November).  How much will wages increase in 2018?

The most followed wage indicator is the  “Average Hourly Earnings” from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) (aka "Establishment") monthly employment report.

Wages CES, Nominal and Real Click on graph for larger image.

The blue line shows the nominal year-over-year change in "Average Hourly Earnings" for all private employees.  Nominal wage growth had been running close to 2% since 2010, and picked up a little in 2015, and more in 2016.

However nominal wage growth was a little soft in 2017.

The red line is real wage growth (adjusted using headline CPI).  Real wages increased during the crisis because CPI declined sharply.   CPI was very low in 2015 - due to the decline in oil prices - so real wage growth picked up in 2015.

Real wage growth trended down in 2017.

There are two quarterly sources for earnings data: 1) “Hourly Compensation,” from the BLS’s Productivity and Costs; and 2) the Employment Cost Index which includes wage/salary and benefit compensation. All three data series are different, and most of the focus recently has been the CES series (used in the graph above).

Atlanta Fed Wage TrackerThe second graph is from the Atlanta Fed Wage Tracker.   This measure is the year-over-year change in nominal wages for individuals.

By following wage changes for individuals, this removes the demographic composition effects (older workers who are retiring tend to be higher paid, and younger workers just entering the workforce tend to be lower paid).

The Atlanta Fed Wage tracker showed nominal wage growth close to 4% at the end of 2016, but only 3.2% in November 2017.

As the labor market continues to tighten, we should see more wage pressure as companies have to compete for employees. I expect to see some further increases in both the Average hourly earning from the CES, and in the Atlanta Fed Wage Tracker.  Perhaps nominal wages will increase close to 3% in 2018 according to the CES.

Here are the Ten Economic Questions for 2018 and a few predictions:

Question #1 for 2018: How much will the economy grow in 2018?
Question #2 for 2018: Will job creation slow further in 2018?
Question #3 for 2018: What will the unemployment rate be in December 2018?
Question #4 for 2018: Will the core inflation rate rise in 2018? Will too much inflation be a concern in 2018?
Question #5 for 2018: Will the Fed raise rates in 2018, and if so, by how much?
Question #6 for 2018: How much will wages increase in 2018?
Question #7 for 2018: How much will Residential Investment increase?
Question #8 for 2018: What will happen with house prices in 2018?
Question #9 for 2018: Will housing inventory increase or decrease in 2018?
Question #10 for 2018: Will the New Tax Law impact Home Sales, Inventory, and Price Growth in Certain States?