MacroScope

Say it with confidence: Consumer surveys as a leading indicator of jobs

It turns out people are better employment forecasters than economists. A report from New York Fed economists finds that confidence measures gleaned from consumer surveys are very tightly correlated with the path of U.S. employment.

The paper offers some illustrative charts that make a rather convincing case.

The chart below plots the Present Situation Index against the unemployment rate, whose scale is inverted so that high levels represent strong labor market conditions (low unemployment) and vice versa. One readily apparent feature is that the two series move together very closely throughout the period and, most notably, during all five of the recessions since 1977. It’s hard to tell from inspecting the chart, but the highest correlation (0.89) occurs at a two-month lead; that is, the Present Situation Index is even more strongly correlated with the unemployment rate two months into the future than it is with the concurrent rate.

The next chart looks at the relationship between changes in this index and payroll job growth – both over twelve-month intervals. This measure of employment is based on a different survey than the survey for the unemployment rate, but payroll employment is typically growing when unemployment is declining and vice versa. Once again, it’s very apparent that the two measures move closely together, and again formal analysis reveals that the Present Situation Index tends to foreshadow movements in employment by a couple of months. In particular, twelve-month changes in the index are most highly correlated with twelve-month job growth four months into the future – the correlation is 0.83.

The authors appear surprised by their own findings, but ultimately find a way to rationalize them:

All of this, of course, begs the question: Why would the general public be able to give a slightly earlier read on the job market than the employment data do? One likely reason is that many people (survey respondents) are in the labor force, and almost everyone has close friends and relatives that work. So it stands to reason that most would be attuned to the general tone of the job market—at least in their region or neighborhood. For instance, people may well be aware, before layoffs actually begin, that a company’s business is slumping or that budgets are tight. Conversely, people are likely to be aware of a flurry of new job openings or a company’s need to increase staff before those new jobs actually get filled and are measured as new employment in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ labor market report.

Hopefulness, not confidence, is spreading through the euro zone

Optimism in Germany is roaring and consumers across the euro zone are starting to become less gloomy. But the latest hard economic data are a reminder of the difference between confidence that things are going to get better, and the hope that they will.

For the moment, we only have the latter.

Friday’s German Ifo business climate survey topped even the highest expectations, as did the ZEW economic sentiment indicator on Tuesday. Euro zone consumer confidence improved this month too, and the mood in financial markets has been largely buoyant since the start of the year.

The hope is that will translate into a growing euro zone economy, but that isn’t happening yet.

Conflicting signals for U.S. economy

As 2011 draws to an unspectacular close, U.S. economic data are sending thoroughly mixed messages about the near-term path of the recovery. That’s not particularly reassuring given the still enormous risks emanating from Europe – but it’s better than the unequivocal weakness that prevailed during the first half of the year.

Consumer confidence offered some reassurance, jumping to an eight-month high in December and showing other encouraging signs as well as Eric Green of TD Securities explains:

The better than expected consumer confidence numbers (64.5) put confidence, like most measures of economic activity, back to the levels of early spring. Views on the labor market, however, look to be rising at a much better clip. The labor differential (between jobs plentiful and hard to get) continued to improve. That measure tracks the unemployment rate very well. It rose in December from -37.4  to -35.1. That remains exceptionally weak, but it is the trend that matters. That trend has improved decisively over the past several months and is now well above the spring levels that averaged closer to -39, and is the highest since the end of 2008.

from Global Investing:

Emerging consumers’ pain to spell gains for stocks in staples

Food and electricity bills are high. The cost of filling up at the petrol station isn't coming down much either. The U.S. economy is in trouble and suddenly the job isn't as secure as it seemed. Maybe that designer handbag and new car aren't such good ideas after all.

That's the kind of decision millions of middle class consumers in developing countries are facing these days. That's bad news for purveyors of everything from jeans to iphones  who have enjoyed double-digit profits thanks to booming sales in emerging markets.

Brazil is the best example of how emerging market consumers are tightening their belts. Thanks to their spending splurge earlier this decade, Brazilian consumers on average see a quarter of their income disappear these days on debt repayments. People's credit card bills can carry interest rates of up to 45 percent. The central bank is so worried about the growth outlook it stunned markets with a cut in interest rates this week even though inflation is running well above target

from Global Investing:

Poor investor confidence – or is it?

The latest State Street investor confidence index bears some scrutiny. The overall index dropped in February which would seem to be in line with other sentiment indicators such as The Conference Board's consumer confidence index and the German Ifo on business thinking.

But the State Street  fall was entirely due to bearish Asian sentiment. There were gains in the North American and European regional calculations. Also the overall, North American and European indices all came in above 100 -- which means that sentiment remains on the bullish side.

It begs the question of whether Asia is a) lagging b) leading or c) just out there on its own.