Labor market turmoil

Pundits are wringing their hands about the poor jobs report, with +266K of new jobs in April compared to 1M estimated. Non-farm jobs recovered to 144.3 million in April, compared to 152.5m in Feb 2020, a shortfall of 5.4%.

Non-farm Payroll

Hours worked has done slightly better, at 5.05 billion in April, compared to 5.25bn in Feb 2020, a shortfall of 3.8%.

Real GDP and Hours Worked

The rate of increase (in hours worked) slowed significantly from March 2021, but that is to be expected. It will be difficult to match the recovery rates achieved at the re-opening and we suspect that the +1m new jobs estimate for April was over-optimistic.

Increase in Hours Worked


Manufacturing jobs are not fully recovered either, at 12.3m in April, a 4.0% shortfall from the 12.8m in Feb 2020. But manufacturing production in March 2021 (104.3) was only 1.7% below its Feb 2020 reading and is expected to close the gap even further in April. A sign that productivity is improving.

Manufacturing Jobs & Industrial Production

Average hourly wage rates continue to grow between 2.5% and 3.5% (YoY). A sign that employers are able to fill job openings.

Manufacturing Hourly Wage Rates

Job Openings

Outside of manufacturing, job openings are growing. A sign that wage rates are likely to follow.

Job Openings

We suspect that job openings are concentrated in low paid jobs where the pandemic and higher unemployment benefits are likely to have the most impact on participation rates.

Low Participation

Low Participation

Unemployment Benefits

Bond Market

After momentary panic, the bond market seems to have decided that the weak jobs report is a non-event and unlikely to reduce inflation or require increased Fed intervention. The 10-year Treasury yield dropped to 1.525% in the morning but recovered to 1.572% by the close.

10-Year Treasury Yields


The labor participation rate has been declining for 20 years and the COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated the decline. Participation rates may never fully recover to pre-pandemic levels.

Declining Labor Participation

But as long as the difference is made up by rising productivity (output/jobs), boosted by increased automation, then the economy is expected to make a full recovery.

Manufacturing Production/Jobs

Higher unemployment benefits and a lower participation rate are likely to drive up wages for unskilled jobs, while de-coupling from China and on-shoring of critical supply chains is expected to lead to skills shortages, driving up wages for higher-paid employees. The Fed will be reluctant to increase interest rates to cool the economic recovery, allowing inflation to rise.

When the (inflation) train starts to roll, it is difficult to stop. Sharp pressure on the (interest rate) brake is then required, but would cause havoc in bond and equity markets.

Australia needs to break the downward spiral

Ross Gittins, Economics Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald, sums up Australia’s predicament:

“The problem is, the economy seems to be running out of puff because it’s caught in a vicious circle: private consumption and business investment can’t grow strongly because there’s no growth in real wages, but real wages will stay weak until stronger growth in consumption and investment gets them moving.

Policy has to break this cycle. But, as [RBA governor] Lowe now warns in every speech he gives, monetary policy (lower interest rates) isn’t still powerful enough to break it unaided. Rates are too close to zero, households are too heavily indebted, and it’s already clear that the cost of borrowing can’t be the reason business investment is a lot weaker than it should be.

That leaves the budget as the only other instrument available. The first stage of the tax cuts will help, but won’t be nearly enough…..”

Cutting already-low interest rates is unlikely to cure faltering consumption and business investment. Low wage growth and a deteriorating jobs market are root causes of the downward spiral and not much will change until these are addressed.

Low unemployment is misleading. Underemployment is growing. Trained barristers working as baristas may be an urban legend but there is an element of truth. The chart below shows underemployment in Australia as a percentage of total employment.

Australia: Underemployment % of Total Employment

How to halt the spiral

Tax cuts are an expensive sugar hit. The benefit does not last and may be frittered away in paying down personal debt or purchasing imported items like flat-screen TVs and smart phones. Tax cuts are also expensive because government is left with debt on its balance sheet and no assets to show for it.

Infrastructure spending can also be wasteful — like school halls and bridges to nowhere — but if chosen wisely can create productive assets that boost employment and build a healthy portfolio of income-producing assets to offset the debt incurred.

The RBA has already done as much as it can — and more than it should. Further rate cuts, or God forbid, quantitative easing, are not going to get us out of the present hole. What they will do is further distort price signals, leading to even greater malinvestment and damage to the long-term economy.

What the country needs is a long-term infrastructure plan with bipartisan support. Infrastructure should be a national priority. There is too much at stake for leadership to take a short-term focus, with an eye on the next election, rather than consensus-building around a long-term strategy with buy-in from both sides of the house.

Gold testing $1100/ounce

Solid job numbers have boosted the prospects for an interest rate hike before the end of the year. Employment is growing steadily, having exceeded its 2008 high by more than 4.2 million new jobs.

Employment and Unemployment

Unemployment is falling as job growth holds above 2.0 percent a year.

Interest Rates and the Dollar

Long-term interest rates are rising, with 10-year Treasury yields headed for a test of resistance at 2.50 percent after breaking through 2.25 percent. Recovery of 13-week Twiggs Momentum above zero indicates an up-trend. Breakout above 2.50 percent would confirm.

10-Year Treasury Yields

The Dollar strengthened in response to rising yields, the Dollar Index breaking resistance at 98. Respect of zero by 13-week Twiggs Momentum indicates long-term buying pressure. Breakout above 100 would confirm another advance, with a target of 107*.

Dollar Index

* Target calculation: 100 + ( 100 – 93 ) = 107


Gold fell as the Dollar strengthened, testing primary support at $1100/ounce. 13-Week Twiggs Momentum peaks below zero indicate a strong (primary) down-trend. Follow-through below $1080 would signal another decline, with a target of $1000/ounce*.

Spot Gold

* Target calculation: 1100 – ( 1200 – 1100 ) = 1000

Economy Adds 146,000 Jobs |

Neil Shah at WSJ writes:

America’s employers added jobs at a slow pace in November, easing fears that uncertainty about U.S. budget policies would stifle hiring, but fueling concerns about the robustness of the economic recovery.

The Labor Department’s latest snapshot of the job market said employers added 146,000 jobs last month. That is an improvement from the previous two months, but below the average job growth per month of about 150,000 over the past two years.

via Economy Adds 146,000 Jobs |

The real solution to poverty: JOBS | CIS

By Andrew Baker and Peter Saunders:

There are two ways to reduce “poverty”: increase the value of welfare benefits faster than the value of wages, or move substantial numbers of people off welfare and into full-time jobs. Anti-poverty campaigners invariably emphasise the first option and neglect the second, but the first actually undermines the second……

The real solution to poverty: J-O-B-S, J-O-B-S, J-O-B-S | The Centre for Independent Studies.

Harry S Dent: Why the Fed will fail

Harry Dent is always entertaining to listen to, but is he right about the link between demographics and inflation?

There is simply no way the Fed can win the battle it’s currently waging against deflation, because there are 76 million Baby Boomers who increasingly want to save, not spend. Old people don’t buy houses! At the top of the housing boom in recent years, we had the typical upper-­‐middle-­‐class family living in a 4,000-­‐square-­‐foot McMansion. About ten years from now, what will they do? They’ll downsize to a 2,000-­‐ square-­‐foot townhouse. What do they need all those bedrooms for? The kids are gone. They don’t visit anymore. Ten years after that, where are they? They’re in 200-­‐square-­‐foot nursing home. Ten years later, where are they? They’re in a 20-­‐square-­‐foot grave plot. That’s the future of real estate. That’s why real estate has not bounced in Japan after 21 years. That’s why it won’t bounce here in the US either. For every young couple that gets married, has babies, and buys a house, there’s an older couple moving into a nursing home or dying.

In my opinion there is a clear link between credit growth and inflation: the faster credit grows, the faster the money supply grows, and the higher the rate of inflation. Demographics are one of the factors that drive credit growth, but they are not the only factor. Interest rates are just as important: when interest rates are low we tend to save less and borrow more. And jobs, as the Fed discovered, are also important: if you haven’t got a job, you can’t borrow from the bank even when interest rates are low.

At present I would guess that jobs are the biggest constraint on credit growth. Later, interest rates will rise when employment recovers — as the Fed attempts to take some of the heat out of the economy. Only then may demographics become the major restriction on credit growth, with older households down-sizing outnumbering younger households up-sizing. But that is by no means definite: solving the jobs crisis alone could take decades!

Harry dent quoted from John Mauldin | A Decade of Volatility: Demographics, Debt, and Deflation (application/pdf Object).

Did Economy Really Create 500,000 Jobs? – WSJ

A recent study by economists Katharine Abraham and John Haltiwanger at the University of Maryland, Kristin Sandusky at the Census Bureau and James Spletzer at the Labor Department found “substantial discrepancies” between employee payrolls and the household survey used to calculate Unemployment.

Some 6.4% of people who showed up as holding jobs on employee records were recorded as unemployed in the household survey. Many of them were 65 and older — which suggests they were people who considered themselves retirees even as they continued to draw some sort of paycheck. An even larger 17.6% of people who counted as employed in the household survey didn’t show up on employee records. Many of them had demographic characteristics, such as low education levels, that suggested they were working off the books.

via Did Economy Really Create 500,000 Jobs? – Real Time Economics – WSJ.

Would all those who are unemployed please raise their hand

US unemployment fell to 8.6 percent in November, the lowest level in more than 2 years. But let’s take a look at the real figures — without the spin. The unemployment rate only includes those who have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks. That excludes anyone who has abandoned hope of finding a job and is no longer seeking work. The Jobless Rate below paints a far bleaker picture, reflecting all unemployed, either full-time or part-time, whether or not they are seeking work. The chart is restricted to males aged 25 to 54 in order to minimize demographic factors that could cause wider variations among females, youth under the age of 25, or 55 or older.

US Males 25 To 54 Jobless Rate

There is a visible improvement, with a fall below 18 percent, but we are a long way from the lows of 12 percent recorded in the last boom. Apart from the massive spike in 2008, what is also evident is the long-term up-trend: the jobless rate has increased steadily over the last 60 years — from a low of just 3.6 percent in 1953. We are a long way from being able to congratulate ourselves on the recovery.

Jobless Rate Dips to Lowest Level in More Than 2 Years –

In the midst of the European debt crisis, lingering instability in the oil-rich Middle East and concerns about a Chinese economic slowdown, the American unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped last month to 8.6 percent, its lowest level in two and a half years.

The Labor Department also said that the nation’s employers added 120,000 jobs in November and that job growth for the previous two months was better than initially reported.

via Jobless Rate Dips to Lowest Level in More Than 2 Years –

Report Shows Gain in Jobs but Growth Still Sluggish –

The United States economy created a modest number of jobs in October, the Labor Department reported Friday. Employers added 80,000 payroll positions on net, slightly less than what economists had expected. That compares to 158,000 jobs in September, a month when the figure was helped by the return of 45,000 Verizon workers who had been on strike………

The unemployment rate was 9 percent in October, slightly lower than September’s 9.1 percent but little changed from where it has been for the last seven months.

via Report Shows Gain in Jobs but Growth Still Sluggish –