MacroScope

What’s in a (trend payrolls) number? The Chicago Fed paper that shook the markets, ever so slightly

      

Ann Saphir contributed to this post

The apparent conclusion from one of the most dovish regional Federal Reserve banks was rather surprising: The economy may actually need much smaller monthly job growth, of around 80,000 or less, in coming years in order for the jobless rate to keep moving lower. The immediate policy implication, it might seem, is that the U.S. central bank may have to tighten monetary policy much sooner than previously thought.

Andrew Brenner of National Alliance remarked that, while the report should be taken with a grain of salt, “this translates to lowering the bar to QE tapering.”

Right? Not necessarily, writes Goldman Sachs economist Jan Hatzius. Here’s why:

This estimate has raised questions whether the unemployment rate could fall faster than generally believed, and whether the first hike in the funds rate could therefore occur earlier than currently predicted.

But it is important to keep in mind that the Chicago Fed economists base their 80,000 estimate on the change in the trend participation rate. This is not a technical detail. If the actual participation rate is currently below trend but is likely to converge to trend over time, the pace of job growth will need to be materially above 80,000 per month to keep the unemployment rate stable, at least over the next few years.

Yellen likely to replace Bernanke at Fed, but beware “overwhelming” top picks

Reuters has just published a poll of economists that shows Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Janet Yellen is the overwhelming favorite pick for President Obama to replace Ben Bernanke as Fed Chairman next year.

The poll conclusions are based on the collective thoughts of dozens of professionals who are not only paid to make these kinds of predictions, but who are also likely to have been in a conversation with people who ought to know.

But it is worth noting one spectacularly wrong call from recent history.

In a similar Reuters poll, this time just days before UK finance minister George Osborne reported that he had chosen Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, as new Bank of England Governor, the overwhelming conclusion among forecasters was that outgoing governor Mervyn King’s deputy, Paul Tucker, would get the job.

Forget the ‘wealth effect’: real wages drive U.S. consumer spending

 

Federal Reserve officials have touted the ‘wealth effect’ from higher stock prices and rising home values as a key way in which monetary policy boosts consumer spending and economic activity. But according to the results of a recent survey from the Royal Bank of Canada, that ethereal feeling of being richer on paper is no substitute for cold, hard cash.

Here’s how Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke explained the benefits of rising asset prices to the real economy during a press conference in September.

The tools we have involve affecting financial asset prices and those are the tools of monetary policy. There are a number of different channels – mortgage rates, I mentioned corporate bond rates, but also prices of various assets, like for example the prices of homes. To the extent that home prices begin to rise, consumers will feel wealthier, they’ll feel more disposed to spend. If house prices are rising people may be more willing to buy homes because they think that they will make a better return on that purchase. So house prices is one vehicle.

Talking Turkey … and Greece

Yesterday was another day of turmoil for emerging markets and according to equity index provider MSCI, they have a new member.

For anyone who thought the euro zone’s debt crisis was over, MSCI lowered Greece to emerging market status last night. MSCI’s focus is the useability of the stock market – which it said fell short of developed market status – but its move casts a wider judgment on an economy still deep in recession, with unemployment at 27 percent and which will almost inevitably need a further debt writedown in the future.

An MSCI upgrade can attract a wider poll of investors who track its indices. The reverse is also true.

To ‘taper’ or not to ‘taper’? Fading the Fed semantics debate

Is Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke avoiding the word “taper” in order to temper expectations that the U.S. central bank will ratchet down its massive bond buying program? This is one view that’s been widely bandied about in recent days.

But then why is it that the Fed officials who are most eager to “taper” have pretty much stopped using the word, too?

The last time Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher used the “T” word in a public speech was in February. But there’s no evidence at all that he’s backing off from his support of the idea. He’s been adamant the Fed should not yank the punch bowl away (or, in his words, go from Wild Turkey to cold turkey) but should gradually reduce stimulus.

The euro zone crisis is over (apparently)

Francois Hollande went a step further than most at the weekend, by declaring the euro zone’s crisis “over”.

The French president was just the latest to claim the worst is over – or words to that effect – ever since the sovereign debt crisis started in early 2010. And he said it himself, nine months ago:

“Tonight, I have the confirmation that the worst is behind us.”Francois Hollande, October 2012

ECB in court

The major euro zone event of the week starts on Tuesday when Germany’s top court – the Constitutional Court in Karlrsuhe – holds a two-day hearing to study complaints about the ESM euro zone bailout fund and the European Central Bank’s still-unused mechanism to buy euro zone government bonds.

The case against the latter was lodged by more than 35,000 plaintiffs. Feelings clearly run high about this despite the extraordinary calming effect the mere threat of the programme has had on the euro debt crisis. Some in Germany, including the Bundesbank, are worried that the so-called OMT could compromise the ECB’s independence and would be hard to stop once launched.

A verdict won’t be delivered until later in the year but already there is already jockeying for position. Germany’s Spiegel reported that a limit had been set on the amount of bonds the ECB could buy – directly contradicting what Mario Draghi has said. That was swiftly and categorically denied by the ECB, then Executive Board Member Joerg Asmussen warned there would be “significant consequences” if Germany’s constitutional court rules the bond-buying programme was illegal.

No relief in sight for millions of unemployed Americans: Cleveland Fed report

The new normal is getting old. And when it comes to America’s stuttering employment market, it’s not going to get much better any time soon, according to a new report from the Cleveland Fed.

The U.S. economy created 175,000 new jobs in May, while the jobless rate rose slightly. It was a neither-here-nor-there sort of report. In the Labor Department’s own words: Both “the number of unemployed persons, at 11.8 million, and the unemployment rate, at 7.6 percent, were essentially unchanged in May.” 

Unfortunately, this anemic pattern is likely to be long-lasting, write Cleveland Fed economists Mark Schweitzer and Murat Tasci.

Forecasters more accurate on U.S. payrolls: perhaps a good sign

Financial and economic forecasters have long been the punching bag of punters and traders for making spectacularly wrong calls. But a clutch of economists looked exceptionally good on Friday. Nine of them, or about 10 percent of the latest Reuters Polls sample on U.S. non-farm payrolls, got the net number of new jobs created in May exactly right at 175,000. And a whole lot of them came very close.

For a survey of companies conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that itself has a margin of error of plus or minus 100,000 this is no small achievement – or stroke of luck.

But it may also be a good sign that jobs growth is getting more steady, a much more stable target to try and pin down each month. The range of forecasts provided – from 125,000 jobs to 210,000 – was also the narrowest so far this year.

Mixed evidence from Germany

German trade data, already out, showed both exports and imports rose more than expected in April – up a sharp 2.3 and 1.9 percent respectively. That suggests that its fabled industrial base is in reasonable shape but also that domestic demand is holding up, possibly helped by some above-inflation pay deals. The figures represent a significant bounce from the first quarter when Europe’s largest economy just managed to eke out some growth.

Let’s not get carried away, though. Germany’s PMI survey earlier this week showed a slight decline in export orders in May and the Bundesbank has just released its latest set of economic forecasts, cutting its 2013 growth forecast to 0.3 percent, adding that risks are largely skewed to the downside. It expects a healthy bounce in growth in the second quarter then a marked throttling back.

Trade figures from France, Britain and Portugal give an opportunity to see if there is any “rebalancing” going on within Europe – the argument being that the euro zone in particular can only thrive if Germany’s massive surpluses shrink a little just as the high debt countries try to pare their deficits. That requires Europe’s largest economy to buy a little more from its currency area peers. The German data showed imports from states in the single currency bloc up 5.4 percent year-on-year in April so maybe there are glimmers of movement.