Friday, January 8, 2010

U.S. Employment Numbers Indicate More Stimulus Ahead

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

The December 2009 Nonfarm Payroll report (released January 8th) indicated that the U.S. added jobs for the first time since the recession began two years ago. This didn't take place in December however. Payrolls last month fell 85,000 with most of the damage coming from drops in construction and manufacturing. Revisions for past months made by the BLS indicate that the U.S. added 4000 jobs in November, instead of the 11,000 loss initially reported. At the same time that 15,000 extra jobs appeared in the November totals, 16,000 were subtracted from the October totals. Certainly, some would think this was suspicious.

While the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) may be playing tricks with the numbers to make the U.S. employment situation look better, it is still quite obvious that the overall picture is pretty dismal. The best spin they could put on the recent news was that the drop in the numbers in the fourth quarter of 2009 was much less than in the devastating first quarter. This 'we are still falling off a cliff, but at a slower rate' message shouldn't reassure anyone. While it is true that there are less layoffs now than there were a year ago, the numbers literally couldn't have gotten much worse. Looking inside recent U.S. employment reports, it can be seen that large numbers of temporary workers added to payrolls have prevented the job loss numbers from being lower than they would have been otherwise. Another 47,000 temp workers were added in December. People have also been leaving the labor force in large enough numbers to keep the top line unemployment rate at only 10.0%. According to the BLS another 661,000 people supposedly exited the U.S. labor force between November and December 2009. While people who aren't in the labor force obviously don't have jobs, they are not considered unemployed.

There were only three industries that added employees in December. Professional and Business Services added 50,000 employees, but this seems to be mostly temporary workers. Education added 13,000 jobs. Health Care added 22,000 jobs and has been the one perennial bright spot in U.S. employment since the recession began. It has added jobs every month in the last two years. A vibrant health care sector can't be the cornerstone of a healthy economy however. The goods producing sectors are needed for this and they are still hemorrhaging jobs. Another 53,000 jobs were lost in construction and 27,000 in manufacturing in December. The loss of construction jobs is not surprising since other statistical reports indicate that U.S. real estate activity is weak. Reports on Durable Goods and the ISM Manufacturing index though indicate U.S. manufacturing has been doing well for many months. There seems to be a disconnect there.

Unemployment is perhaps the most sticky of political issues and something that politicians watch closely. Their automatic reaction is to spend more money to tackle the problem. First they borrow it, and when the credit lines run out, they print it. The U.S. is already well along in this scenario. Investors can also expect a continuation of the Fed's zero interest rate policy until there are real improvements in the employment numbers. It is estimated that it will take the creation of 200,000 jobs a month to lower the U.S. unemployment rate. December's report indicates that this won't be taking place in the near-term future.

Disclosure: Not applicable.

NEXT: Sun Shines on Solar Stocks in Early 2010 Trading

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What continues to be interesting to me on the release of jobs numbers is what happens to the precious metals markets. Again this morning I was watching with the real free app ExactPrice and they spiked when those bad numbers came out. Gold jumped almost $20 dollars.

As far as the unemployment rate goes, I have a feeling it's much higher than 10%. And come Feb 2 when they adjust for the "imagined" job losses of small businesses I think things are going to go crazy.