Category Archives: US Non-Farm Payrolls

9/2/16: Sales and Capex Weaknesses are Bad News for U.S. Jobs Growth

In a note from February 4, Moody Analytics have this two key messages about the U.S. economy, none pleasant:

  • Business sales are ‘mediocre’ outside energy sector, so that jobs growth singled by business sales outside energy sector should be slowing; and
  • Capex slowdown is about to smack jobs growth even further to the downside.

Take their numbers with a gulp of some oxygen.

Point 1: Business sales

The old-fashioned statistics don’t quite fudge stuff as well as the more modern hoopla about users, unique visits and signups deployed in the ICT sector. So here we go:

“Don’t fall into the trap of believing all is well outside of oil & gas. According to Bloomberg News, the 52% of the S&P 500 that has reported for 2015’s final quarter incurred over-year setbacks of -4.9% for sales and -5.7% for operating income. To a considerable degree, the declines were skewed lower by annual plunges of -34.2% for the sales and -64.2% for the operating profits of the latest sample’s 18 energy companies. For the 53% of the S&P 500’s non-energy companies that have reported for Q4-2015, sales barely rose by 0.6% annually, while the 2.6% increase by operating income fell considerably short of long-term profits growth of 6.5%.”

You’ve heard it right: in a recovery the U.S. is having, sales are up 0.6% y/y. Know of any real business that lives off something other than sales? I don’t.

Based on the Commerce Department broad estimate of business sales “that sums the sales of manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers. …even after excluding sales of identifiable energy products, what I refer to as core business sales posted annual increases of merely +2.1% for 2015 and +1.0% for Q4-2015”.

“…payrolls have been surprisingly resilient to the slowest growth by business sales excluding energy products since Q4-2009.” But, based on 3-mo average payrolls correlation with 12-mo average business sales data (estimated by Moody’s at 0.87), 2015 figures for sales suggest “…the average increase of private sector payrolls may descend from 2015’s 213,000 new jobs per month to 42,000 new jobs per month. Unless core business sales accelerate, 2016’s macro risks are most definitely to the downside.”

A handy chart:

Point 2: Capex headwind for jobs growth

“Business outlays on staff and capital spending are highly correlated. Over the past 33 years, the yearly percent change of payrolls revealed a strong correlation of 0.84 with the yearly percent change of real business investment spending.”

So, based on 2015 yearly increase in capital spending private sector payrolls “should have approximated 0.8% instead of the actual 1.9%. In other words, Q4-2015’s 1.6% yearly increase by real business investment spending favored a 91,000 average monthly increase by 2015’s payrolls, which was considerably less than the actual average monthly increase of 221,000 jobs.”

All of which puts into perspective what I wrote recently about the U.S. non farm payroll numbers here:

You really have to wonder, just how long can the U.S. economy continue raising the bar on additional bar staff hiring before choking on shortages of sales and capital investment?

5/2/16: Three Facts from the U.S. Labor Markets & Reality of the U.S. Economy

Three interesting snapshots of the U.S. economy: Non-Farm Payrolls, Initial jobless claims and Labour Productivity. Individually - they are important to traders. Jointly, they are important to investors.

But, first, what has been happening.

Let’s start with jobless claims. Initial jobless claims rose in the last week of January by 8,000 to a (seasonally-adjusted) 285,000. This was worse than consensus forecast by some 5,000 jobs. And worse, 4-week average rose to 284,750 at the end of January, up 2,000.

For history wonks, numbers below 300,000 are considered a sign of tight labour market, so no surprise here that claims can rise with a bit greater volatility when the labour markets are running some overheating.

But last two weeks of January also marked something that has not happened in the markets in some three years - they marked two consecutive weeks of y/y increases in new claims. As always, weather is being blamed, and as always, two weeks are just two weeks. So far, nothing hugely significant. Just a hiccup.

Which brings us to today’s release of NFP. Going into it, consensus forecast was for a ca 180,000 new jobs print (Marketwatch) and ca 190,000 (Bloomberg & Reuters) for January, to compensate for a large 292,000 print in December. What was delivered? Revised December Non-farm payroll figure to 262,000 and January figure of 151,000. Revision to December was large, but smaller than under-shooting in January. January preliminary estimate came as third weakest preliminary figure printed in the last 13 months.

Yes, everyone is running around with 4.9% unemployment figure - sub-5% expected. Good news. However, U-5 unemployment (Total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other persons marginally attached to the labor force, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force) rose on seasonally-adjusted basis from 6.1% in November and December 2015 to 6.2% in January. And U-6 Unemployment (U-5, plus all employed part time for economic reasons) was static at 9.9% for the third month in a row, having previously been at 9.8% in October 2015.

And average hourly earnings up 2.5% y/y (same as previous month growth) and m/m growth of 0.5% (better than 0.3% consensus forecast and way better than 0% growth in December). These look like positives. Another positive is labour force participation - up to 62.7% in January, against 62.6% in December. But this positive is questionable: not seasonally adjusted participation rate in January 2016 was 62.3% which is lower than same for January 2015 at 62.5%.

So now we have: wages up, unemployment rate down, claims down by a lot less than expected, and participation rate is virtually flat. All at high levels of employment. 

Which gets us around to the last bit: productivity. Per U.S. latest data, non-farm labour productivity has fallen a whooping 3% y/y in 4Q 2015 - third biggest decline in productivity for any period since 1Q 2007 and the largest 4Q decline in productivity over the same period. Consensus was for 1.8% drop on foot of 2.2% rise in 3Q 2015. The Unit labour costs went up 4.5% over the same period of time (against consensus forecast of 3.9% rise and up on 1.8% increase in 3Q 2015). Labour costs were up in three quarters of 2015.

Problems with productivity growth have been plaguing the U.S. recovery - in 2015, non-farm productivity was up only 0.6%, which is massively below historical averages (more than x3 2015 rate of expansion).

Here’s the real problem, folks: U.S. economy is struggling to sustain growth absent real investment and absent new technological improvements. It is that simple. And the jobs markets are starting to show the strains of this. Productivity growth being weak, while employment rising and remaining high amidst rising labour costs means only one thing: the U.S. is currently running above its potential rates of growth. It is, in other words, overheating. And that at roughly 2% annual growth rates against pre-crisis averages above 3%. One of two things will have to happen:

  • One: employment moderates and labour costs growth abates; or
  • Two: business investment has to rise (note: explicitly not public investment, because raising public investment in these labour markets conditions will simply exacerbate the twin problem of tighter labour markets and low productivity growth).

Good luck taking an investment strategy on one. Which leaves us with taking a strategy on two… or going defensive on an expectation that stagnation will be setting in...

6/3/15: US NPF: Another Feel-Good Print with Bitter Aftertaste

My take on the US Non-Farm Payroll numbers in few tweets with some RTs:

Good news:

Why German cars? Because:
And bad: the unemployment rate falling to 5.5% means Fed hike moves closer and this, perversely, means Government debt cost for the US is going to rise (I know, I know, it is perverse, but...):
 But the 'bad' gets worse:

The above mans that US now has historically high level of people who are not in the labour force - some 98.9 million all ... meanwhile...

 ...aaaand.... jobs increases are not in higher value-added sectors:

 So to sum this all up: