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The Last Time Unemployment Was This Low, Neil Armstrong Was Just Back From the Moon

With GDP growth at 4.2%, the stock market still rising, and unemployment at a low not seen since 1969, the U.S. economy is running hot. There are even signs of wage growth -- the Amazon move to raise the minimum wage, for example. But even in the best of times, there are hints of shadows lurking, and the Fools will lay out a few of them.

In this segment from the Motley Fool Money podcast, host Chris Hill and Fool senior analysts Aaron Bush, Ron Gross, and Matt Argersinger consider the latest macroeconomic data, and the numbers give them good reason to be upbeat.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Oct. 5, 2018.

Chris Hill: The jobs report for September put America's unemployment rate at 3.7%, the lowest it has been since 1969. Wages continue to tick up. Something we don't talk about that often, Ron, 10-year treasury bonds hitting a seven-year high.

Ron Gross: Should we say it? Should we give them a firing on all cylinders for the economy?

Hill: I think we need to.

Gross: It's pretty impressive. 4.2% GDP. As you said, lowest unemployment since 1969. We have the S&P 500 up 8.5% as a result, that's not including dividends. If you add on those, you've got a 10% year, all things being equal.

Now, not everything is always rosy. There's two sides to every story. You worry about inflation when things are so good. Inflation's at about 2.7% now, a little bit higher than the Fed's target of 2%. But that's actually being rethought. It's kind of an arbitrary number, and maybe it is a bit too low. The interest rates you mentioned are actually a negative. Markets trade down on the highest interest rates. We did see the markets trend a little lower as a result of higher interest rates.

But overall, we robbed Peter to pay Paul a little, I think, with these tax cuts. We'll see what happens down the road. But for today, for now, [laughs] things look pretty strong.

Matt Argersinger: I agree with Ron. I'm really paying attention, though, to those hourly wages. A 2.8% increase, it's certainly not barnstorming. Watching that going forward is going to be important because that's really a major determinant of inflation. If we do finally see a lot of wage pressure, that's what's going to bring the inflation. You saw the 10-year yield hitting a seven-year high. There are important implications to that, Ron mentioned it. As an anecdotal example, the interest rate on one of my rental properties just got adjusted. It's a three-three arm, so the interest rate adjusts every three years. Last month, it climbed a full percentage point.

So, believe me, I'm feeling that. I think a lot of people around the economy who have loans like that are dealing with it, and they're going to be feeling that, as well.

Hill: Speaking of wage pressure, Aaron, Amazon applying some pressure on the competition this week when Amazon announced it was raising its hourly wage to $15 and encouraged others to do the same.

Aaron Bush: Man, they're just playing chess. It's pretty amazing to watch. Yeah, they're just giving politicians what they want. Then they can go do their own thing that others cannot copy them at.

Hill: Ron, when you look at the 10-year treasury bond, the seven-year high, we're a show that's focused on stock investing, but how much higher does this need to climb before you start thinking about bonds in a really serious way?

Gross: A little bit more. We're not there yet. I don't want to nerd out on anybody, but it affects the discount rates you use when you value equities. The higher the interest rates, the lower the present value of future cash flows are, and that actually lowers value when you run the numbers, in conjunction with creating competition for stocks when other investable assets become more attractive.

Argersinger: Right. The relative attractiveness of stocks goes down as yields go higher. For us Foolish investors, long-term, it probably doesn't matter that much. But it does matter for institutions, who are moving around a lot of capital. I think that's why you're probably seeing a little bit of volatility come back to the stock market this week.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Aaron Bush owns shares of Amazon. Chris Hill owns shares of Amazon. Matthew Argersinger owns shares of Amazon. Ron Gross owns shares of Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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