Friday, September 10, 2010

Weekly Claims and Trade Deficit Not as Good as Reported

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.

Stocks reacted enthusiastically to the weekly unemployment claims for the week ending September 3rd and to the improvement in the U.S. trade deficit during July. As usual, the mainstream media hyped up the headline number, but 'forgot' to report some important details.

Weekly claims falling the week before or during a major holiday is a hardly unusual and has nothing to do with an improving employment picture. The 451,000 number reported for the week before Labor Day was the lowest number since the week that contained the July 4th holiday. The problem is not that unemployment offices are closed, but the bureaucrats that tabulate the statistics can't work faster to produce the numbers in a timely fashion. In this report, apparently 9 states didn't have their numbers ready, so two of them estimated their numbers and the BLS estimated the numbers for the other seven. This information doesn't appear to have been included in the intitial press release from the BLS. Some bloggers caught on to it though and Bank of America sent out a note later about what had happened.  Stocks in both the U.S. and overseas rallied on the BLS release showing an improving jobs situation based on incomplete data.

The market was also excited about the trade deficit decreasing in July. While no trade deficit is definitely a good thing (something that hasn't occurred in the U.S. since the 1970s), this is not necessarily true for a lower trade deficit. If the trade deficit is decreasing because of surging exports, that is indeed a positive. If it is decreasing because of a big decline in imports, this can indicate business and consumers are spending less because of poor economic conditions. Falling imports accounted for most of the July decrease. Of the increase in exports, capital goods accounted for 82%. This is surprising considering the July durable goods report showed a significant decline in production of capital goods in the U.S. If exports are surging for capital goods, why is production falling?  There seems to be some contradiction here.

The stock market shouldn't have been happy with either of these government reports. Without the positive spin the mainstream media gave them, it probably wouldn't have been. The truth is that weekly unemployment claims have been continually at recession levels for over two years now and there is no evidence yet of their improvement (even a one week drop below the 400,000 recession level, quite possible before the election on November 2nd, wouldn't mean employment is on an upswing). As for the trade deficit, it was cut in half during the Credit Crisis because the economy was collapsing. An improving trade deficit can actually be sending a negative message. Investors need to know the details and the historical context of any given economic report before they can react appropriately to it. Lots of luck in getting that from the mainstream media.

Disclosure: No positions.

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:

Thom said...

If you are relentlessly negative, sooner or later you will be right.