MacroScope

Why the mediocre U.S. July jobs report was worse than it looked

U.S. economists were generally disappointed with the net gain of 162,000 jobs last month, well below forecasts around 180,000 and market talk of a possible reading above 200,000. The jobless rate did fall to 7.4 percent from 7.6 percent, but labor force participation also resumed its recent descent.

Thomas Lam, chief G3 economist at OSK-DMG/RHB, says the underlying details of the report make employment conditions actually look worse than at first glance. Here’s why:

The most striking aspect of the Jul employment report is that details of the release appear generally weaker than the uninspiring headlines figures.  The nonfarm payrolls print of 162k in Jul, while modestly softer than expectations, was accompanied by narrower gains in private payrolls (the weakest 1-month and 3-month diffusion data since Aug & Sep 2012), and net downward revisions of 26k in prior months (-19k in May and -7k in Jun, confined within private employment).  Moreover, the employment and workweek details from the Jul release imply that real GDP growth in early Q3 2013 might be tracking weaker than the advance Q2 2013 print of 1.7%.

Our proprietary leading indicator of payrolls, the Forward-Looking Indicator of Payrolls (or FLIP), which foreshadowed a weaker trend in private payroll growth recently, continues to signal downside risks to private employment growth in the pipeline.  Similarly, our calculations also suggest that private job growth within the more cyclically-sensitive sectors slowed markedly in Jul to only 9k from roughly 60k in the prior two months (with the 3-month run-rate trending lower).  Essentially, the foregoing decomposition suggests that private employment growth has probably been driven by counter-cyclical and less-cyclical industries over the last two months.

Separately, however, some took solace in the larger than expected decline in the headline unemployment rate – from the household survey – to 7.4% in Jul.  But the lower quality improvement in unemployment should raise some questions.  Our calculations suggest that around 60% of the 0.2%-point drop in unemployment was due to lower labor force participation (a stable participation rate would have led to a 7.5% unemployment rate in Jul), and the remainder resulting from higher employment.  But the gains in household employment in Jul probably emanated from the more fickle part-time category, which was almost twice as much as full-time hiring.  And early hints from available labor market indicators, based on our estimates, imply that the unemployment rate could potentially tick back up in the near-term.

Obama’s second chance to reshape the Fed

Lost in the bizarre Yellen vs. Summers tug-of-war into which the debate over the next Federal Reserve Chairman has devolved, is the notion that President Barack Obama is getting a second shot at revamping the U.S. central bank.

The perk of a two-term president, Obama will get to appoint another three, potentially four officials to the Fed’s influential seven-member board of governors in Washington. This may buy the president some political wiggle room when it comes to his pick for Fed chair, since he might be able to placate Republicans with one or two “concession” appointments. Every Fed governor gets a permanent voting seat on the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee.

Elizabeth Duke, the last George W. Bush appointee, is already on her way out. So is Sarah Bloom Raskin, who after a relatively short stint at the board is moving to the Treasury, to be Jack Lew’s Deputy Secretary. Then there’s the awkward suspicion that, if Obama passes up Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, by far the favorite for the top spot, she will also step down after a long career in the Federal Reserve system, including many years as head of the San Francisco Fed.

U.S. job openings rise, but nobody’s hiring?

It’s a good news, bad news story: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLTS) survey in June showed an increase in job openings, but a decline in new hires. The ratio of unemployed Americans to each open job fell in June to its lowest level in over four years.

The number of job separations (government code for layoffs) also fell, mainly due to fewer layoffs. The June numbers suggest some retracing of the gains of the previous month or two, but does not erase them, says Stone & McCarthy Research Associates economic analyst Terry Sheehan.

Job openings rose by 29,000 in June, but the number of new hires fell by 289,000. Simultaneously, the number of job separations also fell 300,000, mainly on declines in layoffs which fell 215,000.

U.S. GDP revisions, inflation slippage tighten Fed’s policy bind

Richard Leong contributed to this post

John Kenneth Galbraith apparently joked that economic forecasting was invented to make astrology look respectable. You were warned here first that it would be especially so in the case of the first snapshot (advanced reading) of U.S. second quarter gross domestic product from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Benchmark revisions to U.S. gross domestic product made for a bit of a mayhem for forecasters, who were way off the mark in predicting just 1 percent annualized growth when in fact the rate came it at 1.7 percent. Morgan Stanley had predicted a gain of just 0.2 percent.

Hours after the GDP release, Federal Reserve officials sent a more dovish signal than markets had expected, offering no hint that a reduction in the size of its bond-buying stimulus might be imminent. In particular, they flagged the risk to the recovery from higher mortgage rates as well as the potential for low inflation to pose deflationary risks.

Uncertain about the effects of uncertainty on jobs

Job number one at the Federal Reserve these days is to bring down high U.S. unemployment without sparking inflation. Job number two, it sometimes seems, is explaining just how unemployment got so high in the first place.

Two recent papers published by the San Francisco Fed offer what look like opposite takes on the topic.

“(S)tates in which businesses cited poor sales also registered disproportionately sharp drops in jobs and household spending,” wrote Princeton University professor Atif Mian and University of Chicago Booth School of Business professor Amir Sufi in a February Economic Letter.

Fear the Septaper

Credit to Barclays economists for coining the term ‘Septaper’

A solid U.S. employment report for June appears to have cemented market expectations that the Fed will begin to reduce the pace of its bond-buying stimulus in September.  Average employment growth for the last six months is now officially above 200,000 per month.

Never mind that, even at this rate, it would take another 11 months for the job market to reach its pre-recession levels – and that’s not counting the population growth since then.

John Brady, managing director at R.J. O’Brian & Associates in Chicago, nails the market’s sentiment:

U.S. minimum wage hike would offer short-term economic stimulus: Chicago Fed

President Barack Obama proposed a hike in the U.S. minimum wage during his State of the Union Address in February. Since then, we haven’t really heard very much about the proposal. That’s too bad for a U.S. economy that could still use a bit of a boost, according to new research.

A paper from the Chicago Fed finds that, while there might be little impact on long-term growth prospects from a higher minimum wage, the measure could add as much as 0.3 percentage point to gross domestic product in the short-run. That’s not insignificant for an economy that expanded at a soft annualized rate of just 1.1 percent over the last two quarters.

This is how the authors summarize their findings:

A federal minimum wage hike would boost the real income and spending of minimum wage households. The impact could be sufficient to offset increasing  consumer prices and declining real spending by most non-minimum-wage households and, therefore, lead to an increase in aggregate household spending. The authors calculate that a $1.75 hike in the hourly federal minimum wage could increase the level of real gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 0.3 percentage points in the near term, but with virtually no effect in the long term.

Oscar Wilde and the euro zone

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one looks like misfortune, to lose two smacks of carelessness.
Portugal’s government has been plunged into crisis with the foreign minister resigning a day after the finance minister did, the latter complaining that the public would not tolerate his austerity drive.

Prime Minister Passos Coelho has refused to accept the second departure, essentially putting the government’s survival in the gift of Foreign Minister Paulo Portas, who objected to Treasury Secretary Maria Luis Albuquerque replacing Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar. Portas could pull his rightist CDS-PP party out of the coalition government, which would rob it of a majority. The opposition is calling for early elections, the premier says not.

All this is happening with the next review of Portugal’s bailout progress by its EU and IMF lenders just two weeks away and with euro zone borrowing costs already firmly on the rise again. Portuguese yields lurched higher after Portas’ resignation and doubtless will continue in that direction today.

Broken (record) jobless data: Euro zone unemployment stuck at all-time high

Surprise! Euro zone unemployment was stuck at record high of 12.2 percent in May, with the number of jobless quickly climbing towards 20 million. Still, as accustomed to grim job market headlines from Europe as the world has become, it is worth perusing through the Eurostat release for some of the nuances in the figures.

For one thing, as Matthew Phillips notes, Spain’s unemployment crisis is now officially more dire than Greece’s – and that’s saying something.

Also, the figures remind us just how disparate conditions are across different parts of the currency union. While Spanish and Greek unemployment is hovering just below 27 percent, the jobless rate in Austria, the region’s lowest, is 4.7 percent.

What’s a Fed to do? Taper talk persists despite missed jobs, inflation targets

As the Federal Reserve meets this week, unemployment is still too high and inflation remains, well, too low. That makes some investors wonder why policymakers are talking about curtailing their asset-buying stimulus plan. True, job growth has averaged a solid 172,000 net new positions per month over the last year, going at least some way to meeting the Fed’s criteria of substantial improvement for halting bond purchases.

So, either policymakers see brighter skies ahead or they want to get out of QE3 for other reasons they may rather not air too publicly: worries about efficacy or possible financial market bubbles.

“I don’t think the data dependent emphasis is the only ball the Fed is focusing on when mulling over the pace and extent of asset purchases,” says Thomas Lam, chief economist at OSK-DSG.