Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday, August 01, 2014 - Jobs, Mainly

Jobs, Mainly
by Sinclair Noe

DOW – 69 = 16,493
SPX – 5 = 1925
NAS – 17 = 4352
10 YR YLD - .05 = 2.50%
OIL - .32 = 97.88
GOLD + 13.70 = 1295.20
SILV - .09 = 20.40

The first Friday of each month brings us what I consider one of the most important economic reports we can cover, the jobs report; and so we provide comprehensive (wonkish) coverage.

The economy added 209,000 net new jobs in July. The unemployment rate moved up to 6.2% from 6.1%. Even though the economy added jobs, more people joined the labor force, and that is why the unemployment rate moved higher. The 209,000 new jobs was below estimates of about 230,000. The report from June was revised from 288,000 to 298,000; the May report was revised from 224,000 to 229,000 for a net 15,000 in upward revisions.

Employment is up 2.57 million year over year. We have regained the jobs lost in the downturn, and total employment is 639,000 above the pre-recession peak. Total employment is up 9.35 million from the lows of the recession, and private employment is up almost 9.9 million from the lows; the difference reflects the job losses in government related jobs.

So far this year an average of 229,000 new jobs a month have been created. That’s a significantly higher pace than in 2010 when a mere 88,000 jobs a month on average were added. Since the start of the year the economy has added 1.6 million jobs.  At the current pace, the economy could add 2.75 million jobs this year, which would be the best year for total and private job growth since 1999.

This was the sixth month in a row with more than 200,000 jobs added, and that hasn’t happened since 1997. It was probably a bigger achievement 17 years ago, because the economy and the labor force was smaller back then, but the employment recovery has been chugging along through a first quarter that was frozen by the polar vortex and rebound in the second quarter. And the private sector has been adding jobs consistently since the first quarter of 2010.

The unemployment rate was up to 6.2%. The jobless rate can rise for both good reasons (more people looking for work) and bad reasons (fewer people having a job). This month, more people were looking for work. The Labor Force Participation Rate increased to 62.9% in July; this is a measure of how many people who are of working age are actually in the labor force and working or looking for work. The idea that the pool of labor is increasing is a positive; the idea is that some people who have been unemployed for a long time are now finding jobs. The trend in employment growth remains more than strong enough for the unemployment rate to keep trending down, even though the rate rose a tenth this month

Part of the decline in the participation rate was due to demographics; many older workers retired, whether they wanted to or not, while many younger workers stayed in school or returned to school. So, it’s helpful to look at people aged 25-54, in their prime working age; among this group, the participation rate declined slightly; this confirms that younger and older workers were jumping back into the labor pool.  Still, the employment to population rate, which measures the country’s population that reported having a job in July was unchanged at 59%, a number that was up only barely from its 58.7% level of a year ago.

There are still more than 3.1 million workers who have been unemployed more than half a year. And there are just over 7.5 million people working part-time for economic reasons. These workers are included in an alternate measure of unemployment known as the U-6, which includes unemployed and underutilized workers; U-6 increased from 12.1% to 12.2%.

Many people think the U-6 is a more accurate measure of the jobs market, but let’s dig a little deeper. There are 9.6 million people unemployed and actively looking for a job. There are more than 2 million people who have stopped looking for a job within the past year. When you start adding all the unemployed workers who want a job, plus involuntary part-time, plus discouraged workers, you come up with about 23 million people that could possibly move into the labor pool. There is still massive slack in the labor market, and it will take a long time to take up the slack. For now, it is a slow, steady slog.

Where is the job growth coming from? Professional and business services added 47,000 jobs. Retail employment gained 27,000 jobs. Manufacturing added 28,000 jobs last month but the sector has recovered only 30% of the jobs lost during the recession. Construction added 22,000 jobs. Leisure and hospitality gained 21,000. Education and health services added 17,000. Government added 11,000. State and local government employment is now up 151,000 from the bottom, but still nearly 600,000 below the peak. Federal government jobs have dropped by 22,000 since the start of the year. The loss of government jobs is one of the major factors in the slow jobs recovery. In previous downturns, government did not have layoffs, and sometimes increased hiring. In this downturn government jobs were cut in a wave of austerity measures.

Even though the economy has been adding jobs, it has not been enough to push a recovery in wages. In July, average hourly wages rose a penny to $24.45, a disappointing result after strong gains in June and May. In 23 of the past 24 months, the yearly increase in hourly pay has ranged from 1.9% to 2.2%, or about one-third less than usual during an economic recovery. The 12-month increase in wages as of July was just 2%; and inflation wiped out about three-fourths of that gain. There’s been no change since the start of 2014. While it might seem counterintuitive that wages are flat while jobs are being added, the likely reason is that there are a lot of poor paying jobs plus a few very good paying jobs. The average length of the workweek for private sector workers was unchanged at 34.5 hours.

Stronger than expected US growth figures on Wednesday showed second quarter GDP up 4% on an annualized basis, along with hawkish comments from US Federal Reserve board member Charles Plosser, it prompted fears that the central bank may increase the cost of borrowing sooner than expected. Today’s non-farm payroll numbers were just weak enough to ease concerns about possible tightening from the Fed, yet not so awful as to indicate a downturn. It still points to a job market and an economy that is improving, but there is no real wage pressure and nothing to indicate inflation is a concern.

We had a couple more economic reports today. The Institute for Supply Management said its index of national factory activity rose to 57.1 in July, the highest since April 2011, from 55.3 in June. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the manufacturing sector.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's final July reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment came in at 81.8, down from the final June reading of 82.5. The surveyors report that consumers’ attention has been dominated by jobs and income growth.

For the week, the S&P 500 fell 2.7%, its biggest weekly percentage loss since the week ending June 1, 2012, while the Nasdaq fell 2.2%. The Dow ended down 2.8% for the week. The Dow's losses dragged it further into negative territory for the year. For the year-to-date, it is down 0.5%.

Markets have suffered a turbulent few days, hit by a combination of interest rate concerns and growing geopolitical worries. The violence in Gaza also added to the sense of events escalating out of control; a proposed 72 hour cease fire didn’t last one day. An Israeli soldier was captured, and it looks like violence will escalate over the weekend. The week saw Argentina defaulting for the second time in 12 years, while continuing tensions with Russia over the Ukraine led to the imposition of further sanctions which could hit businesses and put the brakes on global growth.

It was a big week for US economic activity, with jobs and GDP statistics and a Fed meeting, but it was European equity markets that took a real tumble. Portugal was a big loser, as Banco Espírito Santo reported the largest-ever loss for a Portuguese company, sending its shares spiraling and prompting probes into possible accounting fraud at the bank.

Portugal’s major stock index dropped 10% for the week. German stocks were hit following stepped up sanctions against Russia, a major supplier of natural gas to Germany; the DAX index slipped 4.5%. Greece, Austria, Spain, UK, and France all saw declines of 3% or more. The major Russian index dropped about 1%.

Europe posted its own jobs report. Eurozone unemployment dropped to 11.5%, which is absolutely horrible, but getting better. Meanwhile, the region continues to flirt with the prospect of deflation, with euro zone wide prices rising a scant 0.4% in July from the prior year. So, there is still plenty the ECB can do to stimulate the economy over there.

Meanwhile, Congress is calling a 5 week recess, an extended summer vacation, which even Europeans think is excessive. They managed to get a few things done before running away. They passed a $16 billion VA bill to help deal with extensive treatment delays and a recent record-keeping scandal. They cobbled together a patch for highway funding, just a temporary patch. This Congress has only managed to pass 142 bills into law, which puts the legislative branch on pace for its least productive session in modern history. And now they’re heading out for a 5 week vacation. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they won’t come back.

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