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El-Erian: Here's a 'nightmare scenario' for the U.S. economy

Ines Ferré
Markets Reporter

The big risk with the latest U.S. jobs report is if it turns out to be a “head fake” says Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic advisor at Allianz.

“That’s the nightmare scenario,” El-Erian told Yahoo Finance after the US unexpectedly added 2.5 million jobs in May as states started re-opening and easing COVID-19 shelter in place measures.

“The big risk ... is that this is a head fake, a major head fake that we are picking up the impact of both data distortions, and policy distortions,” said El-Erian.

May’s employment report has economists scratching their heads. They were expecting the US to lose 7.5 million jobs. Instead it gained jobs, and the unemployment rate, ticked lower to 13.3%.

“No one was looking for an uptake in jobs.” said El-Erian. “It may be that the economy has picked up in a major way. That's the hope. And that's certainly what the market has embraced.”

“Or it may be two other things: that government policies were very effective in reducing those who were officially unemployed. Or it may be that the data is very, very noisy,” he added.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 29: Mohamed El-Erian, Chief Economic Adviser of Allianz appears on a segment of "Mornings With Maria" with Maria Bartiromo on the FOX Business Network at FOX Studios on April 29, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

“What is really striking is if you look at continuing claims, they went up, not down. So every other indicator you look at suggest that the labor market is not as healthy as these numbers,” said El-Erian.

If indeed the report is a “head fake,” El-Erian warns “the political process may have moved away from relief and repair.”

“We've got to understand these numbers better, and we've got to continue with the message to Congress that there is still a big hole we find ourselves in, even if you believe these numbers,” he added.

President Trump on Friday signed legislation lengthening the PPP loan program, aimed at helping small businesses keep workers on their payroll.

The jobs report sent stocks soaring on Friday, with the Dow (^DJI) gaining more than 3% with Nasdaq (^IXIC) hitting an intraday high.

The Federal Reserve’s actions to combat the economic fallout of COVID-19, including backing corporate debt markets, have helped the markets rally reminiscent of the 2009 rebound.

“In the equity market, there's nothing more comforting than the notion that someone with a printing press in the basement and an unlimited ability and willingness to buy is your backstop,” said El-Erian.


"What we want is fundamentals to improve and validate asset prices. That's how this is an orderly outcome. If that doesn't happen at some point, fundamentals will assert themselves,” he added.

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