MacroScope

Fewer firings do not mean more hirings

Jobless claims fell unexpectedly last week to 361,000. Analysts were particularly heartened by the improvement because the latest figures were finally “clean” of recent seasonal adjustment quirks related to auto factory shutdowns. That’s the good news.

Some lingering cause for hesitation: Eric Green at TD Securities reminds us that recent dips in claims have not necessarily translated into great bursts of new job creation.

Over past periods of this recovery claims at this level have been consistent with (monthly) job growth closer to 200,000. With claims back at these levels, one cannot presume that this will continue to hold given the level of uncertainty and slower growth momentum from which labor demand will lag.

The next employment report is not accelerating toward 200,000. A slowdown toward 120,000 is far more likely given the recent readings on PMI’s, Monster (online) advertising, and a sectoral breakdown which favors less job growth in leisure, business services, and information technology.

The economy created 163,000 jobs in July, much stronger than analysts had forecast. But the jobless rate climbed to 8.3 percent from 8.2 percent.

U.S. payrolls ‘wild card’: public school teachers, employees

The “big wildcard” in making July payroll projections is the size of the swing in public school teachers and other school workers.

Because of the size of teacher layoffs and the effect of the July 4th holiday on the data, the July seasonal adjustment factor can vary significantly from one year to the next, and the variation can be extreme, says Ward McCarthy, managing director and chief financial economist at Jefferies & Co in New York.

Many public school teachers, in addition to some other public school employees, are hired on a ten-month calendar that runs from September through June, large-scale layoffs occurring in July and large-scale hiring occurring in September.

Like over-hyped Olympian, Fed set to disappoint

Pity the Federal Reserve. Like an over-hyped Olympian, the U.S. central bank enters this week’s policy meeting with sky-high expectations and a high probability of disappointment.

Markets are salivating at the prospect of a decisive easing move when Fed policymakers emerge from their meeting on Wednesday. The S&P 500 is up 3.6 percent in the last four sessions as traders hold out hope the Fed will launch a third round of quantitative easing, or QE3, to blast the U.S. economy out of its funk. Stumbling job creation, manufacturing and spending, as well as a measly 1.5 percent GDP growth in the second quarter and serious spillover threats ahead from Europe’s debt crisis, all feed this thesis. Fed policymakers from Chairman Ben Bernanke on down the line to Cleveland Fed President Sandra Pianalto and James Bullard of St. Louis have also stoked the market with a more dovish tone the last little while. And yet, this is probably not the time for a big policy move.

Topping the list of reasons to disappoint – and to knock the market down to size – the Fed probably doesn’t want to front-run the July employment report that’s due on Friday, and which will give a fresh sense whether the spring-summer slump in the labor market is temporary or more permanent. Waiting until the Fed’s next scheduled meeting, Sept. 12-13, would give policymakers the added benefit of the August jobs report. And speaking of front-running, the U.S. central bank may not want to get out just ahead of the European Central Bank’s policy decision on Thursday. If, down the line, things get really ugly in Europe – or if the U.S. Congress sends the country off the so-called fiscal cliff – the Fed will probably want to have the QE3 bazooka ready in its arsenal.

Excuses, excuses: The problem with ‘structural’ explanations for U.S. unemployment

It’s an arcane economics debate with all-too-real implications for U.S. monetary policy: Is high unemployment primarily the result of “structural” factors like skills mismatches and difficulties relocating, or is it largely due to insufficient consumer demand in a weak economic recovery?

The answer to that question may help determine how much further the Federal Reserve is willing to push its unconventional measures to bring down the jobless rate, currently stuck at 8.2 percent. If unemployment is cyclical, economists say, it would be more likely to respond to looser monetary conditions.

Research from Berkeley professor Jesse Rothstein, published earlier this year and featured recently on the National Bureau of Economic Research’s website, represents one of the most thorough academic efforts to date to discredit the structuralist version of events.

Fed policy: So many risks, so few tools

Chris Reese contributed to this post.

A barrage of rotten economic news around the world has suddenly and vigorously reawakened the prospect of additional monetary easing by the Federal Reserve – most notably a report on Friday showing job growth slowed sharply in recent months.

William Larkin, portfolio manager at Cabot Money Management in Salem, Mass., said:

The chance of another recession is on the table, no question about it. It might force the Fed to develop another growth strategy like a QE3.

Euro zone may struggle with its own Lost Decade

Additional Reporting by Andy Bruce and polling by Rahul Karunakar and Sumanta Dey.

As Europe’s crisis drags on, the prospect of a Japanese-style lost decade of economic malaise is becoming increasingly real, according to a new poll. Half of the bond strategists and economists surveyed by Reuters are now expecting just such an outcome.

Many market participants have dismissed the fall of two-year German bond yields below their Japanese counterparts as being merely a result of a crisis-fueled flight to quality bid. Two-year German yields are now close to zero, offering returns of only 0.02 percent. By contrast, equivalent Japanese bonds are yielding 0.11 percent.

Israel’s new-found jobless

Following on from Nigeria’s rebasing of its GDP numbers, giving it a huge growth boost on paper, it is Israel’s turn to tinker with the numbers.  This time, though, the end result was not positive.

The country’s Central Bureau of Statistics said on Monday that the first-quarter jobless rate was 6.7 percent. This a good 1.3 percentage points higher than the announced fourth-quarter figure.

It does not, however, signal a sudden cull of workers across Israel. It is the result, rather, of Israel adopting a new way of counting employment designed to bring it in line with the way leading Western economies do it. So the equivalent fourth-quarter number would have been 6. 8 percent, slightly higher.

Bernanke: U.S. is not Japan, and I have not changed my mind

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Of all the questions Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was asked during his press conference on Wednesday, one appeared to pique his interest in particular: Was he being less aggressive as central bank chairman than the advice he dished out to Japan as an academic in the 1990s would prescribe?

It was the second half of the question asked by Binyamin Applebaum and yet the chairman was eager to get right to it: “Let me tackle that second part first,” he began.

Applebaum may have been channeling the Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman, a Princeton colleague of Bernanke’s and critic of Fed policy, who recently argued the Fed chief was being inconsistent and overly cautious.

Never mind the pain, feel the austerity

Austerity in the euro zone seems to be working — at least as far as the headline,  dry, soulless numbers of  budget balancing are concerned. Bailed out  Greece and Ireland have reported substantial improvements in last year’s profligacy performance.  Spain, while going in the wrong direction, at least has the satisfaction of being told it is not telling fibs.

We will get to the smoke and mirrors in a bit.

First Greece, the euro zone’s poster child for budget ill-discipline. The 2011 budget deficit to GDP ratio  – basically the annual overspend — came in at 9.1 percent. This may seem like a lot given the EU target is 3 percent, but it was down from 10.3 percent  a year earlier and from 15.6 percent the year before that. Furthermore, if you take out all the debt repayments costs that Athens has to make , you end up with only 2.4 percent (although in truth that is like pretending you don’t have a mortgage).

In Ireland, the craic was all about trouncing expectations. The deficit to GDP ratio for 2011 came in at 9.4 percent, which compared with an original 10.6 percent target and even a revised target just last December of 10.  1 percent. Everything is on track, Dublin reckons, to meet this year’s 8.6 percent.

The Law of Diminishing Greeks

The Law of Diminishing Returns  states that a continuing push towards a given goal tends to  decline in effectiveness after a certain amount of effort has been expended. If this weren’t the case, Usain Bolt would be able to run the mile in  less than 2-1/2 minutes.

From an economic standpoint, this law now seems to be fully in force in Greece. The latest jobs figures from the twice-bailed out euro zone country paint a bleak numerical picture of the impact of unrelenting austerity in ordinary Greeks, regardless of whether it was self-inflicted or not. To wit:

More than one in five Greeks is unemployed.

There are more young people without a job than with one.

The record 1.08 million people  without work in January was a  47 percent tumble  in a year.