Posts tagged ‘unemployment rate’
Ever since the 2008-2009 financial crisis, every time the stock market has experienced a -5%, -10%, or -15% correction, industry pundits and media talking heads have repeatedly sounded the “Double Dip Recession” alarm bells. As you know, we have yet to experience a technical recession (two reported quarters of negative GDP growth), and stock prices have almost quadrupled from a 2009 low on the S&P 500 of 666 to 2,378 today (up approximately +257%).
Over the last nine years, so-called experts have been warning of an imminent stock market collapse from the likes of PIIGS (Portugal/Italy/Ireland/Greece/Spain), Cyprus, China, Fed interest rate hikes, Brexit, ISIS, U.S. elections, North Korea, French elections, and other fears. While there have been plenty of “Double Dip Recession” references, what you have not heard are calls for a “Double Dip Expansion.”
Is it possible that after the initial 2010-2014 economic expansionary rebound, and subsequent 2015-2016 earnings recession caused by sluggish global growth and a spike in the value of the U.S. dollar, we could possibly be in the midst of a “Double Dip Expansion?” (see earnings chart below)
Whether you agree or disagree with the new political administration’s politics, the economy was already on the comeback trail before the November 2016 elections, and the momentum appears to be continuing. Not only has the pace of job growth been fairly consistent (+235,000 new jobs in February, 4.7% unemployment rate), but industrial production has been picking up globally, along with a key global trade index that accelerated to 4-5% growth in the back half of 2016 (see chart below).
This continued, or improved, economic growth has arisen despite the lack of legislation from the new U.S. administration. Optimists hope for an improved healthcare system, income tax reform, foreign profit repatriation, and infrastructure spending as some of the initiatives to drive financial markets higher.
Pessimists, on the other hand, believe all these proposed initiatives will fail, and cause financial markets to fall into a tailspin. Regardless, at least for the period following the elections, investors and companies have perceived the pro-business rhetoric, executive orders, and regulatory relief proposals as positive developments. It’s widely understood that small businesses supply the largest portion of our nation’s jobs, and the upward spike in Small Business Optimism early in 2017 is a welcome sign (see chart below).
Yes, it is true our new president could send out a rogue tweet; start a trade war due to a tariff slapped on a critical trading partner; or make a hawkish military remark that isolates our country from an ally. These events, along with other potential failed campaign promises, are all possibilities that could pause the trajectory of the current bull market. However, more importantly, as long as corporate profits, the mother’s milk of stock price appreciation, continue to march higher, then the stock market fun can continue. If that’s the case, there will likely be less talk of “Double Dip Recessions,” and more discussions of a “Double Dip Expansion.”
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.
The game of investing would be rather simple if everything moved in a straight line and economic data points could be could be connected with a level ruler. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t operate that way – data points are actually scattered continuously. In the short-run, inflation, GDP, exchange rates, interest rates, corporate earnings, profit margins, geopolitics, natural disasters, financial crises, and an infinite number of other factors are very difficult to predict with any accurate consistency. The true way to make money is to correctly identify long-term trends and then opportunistically take advantage of the chaos by using the power of mean reversion. Let me explain.
Take for example the just-released October employment figures, which on the surface showed a blowout creation of +271,000 new jobs during the month (unemployment rate decline to 5.0%) versus the Wall Street consensus forecast of +180,000 (flat unemployment rate of 5.1%). The rise in new workers was a marked acceleration from the +137,000 additions in September and the +136,000 in August. The better-than-expected jobs numbers, the highest monthly addition since late 2014, was paraded across television broadcasts and web headlines as a blowout number, which gives the Federal Reserve and Chairwoman Janet Yellen more ammunition to raise interest rates next month at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting. Investors are now factoring in roughly a 70% probability of a +0.25% interest rate hike next month compared to an approximately 30% chance of an increase a few weeks ago.
As is often the case, speculators, traders, and the media rely heavily on their trusty ruler to connect two data points to create a trend, and then subsequently extrapolate that trend out into infinity, whether the trend is moving upwards or downwards. I went back in time to explore the media’s infatuation with limitless extrapolation in my Back to the Future series (see Part I; Part II; and Part III). More recently, weakening data in China caused traders to extrapolate that weakness into perpetuity and pushed Chinese stocks down in August by more than -20% and U.S. stocks down more than -10%, over the same timeframe.
While most of the media coverage blew the recent jobs number out of proportion (see BOOM! Big Rebound in Job Creation), some shrewd investors understand mean reversion is one of the most powerful dynamics in economics and often overrides the limited utility of extrapolation. Case in point is blogger-extraordinaire Scott Grannis (Calafia Beach Pundit) who displayed this judgment when he handicapped the October jobs data a day before the statistics were released. Here’s what Grannis said:
The BLS’s estimate of private sector employment tends to be more volatile than ADP’s, and both tend to track each other over time. That further suggests that the BLS jobs number—to be released early tomorrow—has a decent chance of beating expectations.
Now, Grannis may not have guaranteed a specific number, but comparing the volatile government BLS and private sector ADP jobs data (always released before BLS) only bolsters the supremacy of mean reversion. As you can see from the chart below, both sets of data have been highly correlated and the monthly statistics have reliably varied between a range of +100k to +300k job additions over the last six years. So, although the number came in higher than expected for October, the result is perfectly consistent with the “slowly-but-surely” growing U.S. economy.
While I spend much more time picking stocks than picking the direction of economic statistics, even I will agree there is a high probability the Fed moves interest rates next month. But even if Yellen acts in December, she has been very clear that this rate hike cycle will be slower than previous periods due to the weak pace of economic expansion. I agree with Grannis, who noted, “Higher rates would be a confirmation of growth, not a threat to growth.” Whatever happens next month, do yourself a favor and keep the urge of extrapolation at bay by keeping your pencil and ruler in your drawer.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) , but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.
The tug-of-war is officially on as investors try to decipher whether good news is good or bad for the stock market? On the surface, the monthly January jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) appeared to be welcomed, positive data. Total jobs added for the month tallied +257,000 (above the Bloomberg consensus of +230,000) and the unemployment rate registered 5.7% thanks to the labor participation rate swelling during the month (see chart below). More specifically, the number of people looking for a job exceeded one million, which is the largest pool of job seekers since 2000.
Initially the reception by stocks to the jobs numbers was perceived positively as the Dow Jones Industrial index climbed more than 70 points on Friday. Upon further digestion, investors began to fear an overheated employment market could lead to an earlier than anticipated interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve, which explains the sell-off in bonds. The yield on the 10-Year Treasury proceeded to spike by +0.13% before settling around 1.94% – that yield compares to a recent low of 1.65% reached last week. The initial euphoric stock leap eventually changed direction with the Dow producing a -180 point downward reversal, before the Dow ended the day down -62 points for the session.
The same confusion circling the good jobs numbers has also been circulating around lower oil prices, which on the surface should be extremely positive for the economy, considering consumer spending accounts for roughly 70% of our country’s economic output. Lower gasoline prices and heating bills means more discretionary spending in the pockets of consumers, which should translate into more economic activity. Furthermore, it comes as no surprise to me that oil is both figuratively and literally the lubricant for moving goods around our country and abroad, as evidenced by the Dow Jones Transportation index that has handily outperformed the S&P 500 index over the last 18 months. While this may truly be the case, many journalists, strategists, economists, and analysts are nevertheless talking about the harmful deflationary impacts of declining oil prices. Rather than being viewed as a stimulative lubricant to the economy, many of these so-called pundits point to low oil prices as a sign of weak global activity and an omen of worse things to come.
This begs the question, as I previously explored a few years ago (see Good News=Good News?), is it possible that good news can actually be good news? Is it possible that lower energy costs for oil importing countries could really be stimulative for the global economy, especially in regions like Europe and Japan, which have been in a decade-long funk? Is it possible that healthier economies benefiting from substantial job creation can cause a stingy, nervous, and scarred corporate boardrooms to finally open up their wallets to invest more significantly?
Interest Rate Doom May Be Boom?
Quite frankly, all the incessant, never-ending discussions about an impending financial market Armageddon due to a potential single 0.25% basis point rate hike seem a little hyperbolic. Could I be naively whistling past the graveyard? From my perspective, although it is a foregone conclusion the Fed will have to increase interest rates above 0%, this is nothing new (I’m really putting my neck out there on this projection). Could this cause some volatility when it finally happens…of course. Just look at what happened to financial markets when former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke merely threatened investors with a wind-down of quantitative easing (QE) in 2013 and investors had a taper tantrum. Sure, stocks got hit by about -5% at the time, but now the S&P 500 index has catapulted higher by more than +25%.
Looking at how stocks react in previous rate hike cycles is another constructive exercise. The aggressive +2.50% in rate hikes by former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan in 1995 may prove to be a good proxy (see also 1994 Bond Repeat?). After suffering about a -10% correction early in 1994, stocks rallied in the back-half to end the year at roughly flat.
And before we officially declare the end of the world over a single 0.25% hike, let’s not forget that the last rate hike cycle (2004 – 2006) took two and a half years and 17 increases in the targeted Federal Funds rate (1.00% to 5.25%). Before the rate increases finally broke the stock market’s back, the bull market moved about another +40% higher…not too shabby.
Lastly, before writing the obituary of this bull market, it’s worth noting the yield curve has been an incredible leading indicator and currently this gauge is showing zero warnings of any dark clouds approaching on the horizon (see chart below). As a matter of fact, over the last 50 years or so, the yield curve has turned negative (or near 0%) before every recession.
As the chart above shows, the yield curve remains very sloped despite modest flattening in recent quarters.
While many skeptics are having difficulty accepting the jobs data and declining oil prices as good news because of rate hike fears, history shows us this position could be very misguided. Perhaps, once again, this time around good news may actually be good news.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.
Average investors feel ill from the 2008-2009 financial mess, and like hypochondriacs they can only find fleeting reassurances by reviewing endless amounts of unemployment data. Volatile monthly data is not sufficient, so even more erratic weekly jobless claims data are relied upon. Why just stop there? With this insatiable appetite for unemployment rate data right now, people can’t get enough, so I am not only petitioning for the release of a daily jobs report, but also an hourly one.
Jobs data are relatively straightforward and simple for most Americans to understand. However, most people have more difficulty connecting with economic acronyms and data points such as GDP, PPI, CPI, industrial production, Philly Fed, capacity utilization, Conference Board LEI, durable goods, factory orders, energy inventories, trade balance, unit labor costs, and other economic figures.
What’s the big deal surrounding the infatuation with myopic unemployment data? We have these things called “recessions” about twice every decade, and of the last 11 post-WWII recessions we have had 11 recoveries – not a bad batting percentage. Obviously, unemployment is a big deal if you are one of the 15 million or so people with no job, but as Jim Paulsen, Chief Investment Strategist at Wells Capital Management points out in his August Economic and Market Perspective, this current recovery is progressing at the fastest pace of any recovery over the last 25 years, and yes, jobs are being added (albeit slower than hoped).
“The consensus perception that this recovery is the ‘worst ever’ and consequently extremely vulnerable to a potential double-dip recession is overblown…Even if this recovery is weak compared to older postwar norms, it is still stronger than any other recovery in the last 25 years,” states Mr. Paulsen.
As you can see from Paulsen’s table below, our current recovery is not as brisk as the recoveries in the pre-1983 era, but he chalks up this trend to subpar growth in the United States’ labor force.
Paulsen identified this dampened worker growth since the mid-1980s. He doesn’t attribute moderate growth to the “New Normal,” as described by PIMCO pals Bill Gross and Mohamed El-Erian (see also New Normal is Old Normal), but rather ascribes the phenomenon to a continuing trend. Paulsen adds:
“Whatever is causing the ‘new-normal’ economy has been doing it for the last 25 years. The ‘new normal’ is actually kind of old—at least a quarter century old.”
If you think about it, what businesses carried out over the last two years is clearly consistent with a normal economic recovery:
1) Businesses fired employees swiftly amid great uncertainty.
2) Businesses cut expenses, especially discretionary ones, and now profits and cash are piling up.
3) Businesses are buying more capital equipment. Spending is up +12% (to ~$1.3 trillion) from early 2009 according to Joe Lavorgna, an economist at Deutsche Bank.
4) Business acquisitions are beginning to heat up. Witness BHP Billiton’s (BHP) bid for Potash Corp (POT), and HP’s (HPQ) bid for 3Par (PAR) as examples (read HP’s Winner’s Curse).
5) Businesses are paying larger dividends and buying back more of their own stock.
All these actions are very reasonable given the continued uncertain economic environment and rapidly building cash war chests. Buying back stock, doing acquisitions, and prudently spending on cost saving equipment are, generally speaking, accretive measures for a company’s profit and loss statement. On the other hand, hiring employees is usually a lagging indicator of economic expansion and acts as diluting profit forces – at least in the short-run until workers become more productive. Eventually cash and/or business confidence will rise enough to push human resource departments over the fence to begin hiring again.
The weekly unemployment claims chart shows how rapidly improvement has been achieved over the last few decades, even though the improvement has stalled at a lofty level.
Japan Case Study: Demographic Double Edged Sword
Be careful what you wish for. Low unemployment is not the end-all, be-all of the world we live in. Take Japan for example. From 1953 until 2010, Japan’s unemployment rate averaged about 2.6%. The last reported rate registered 5.2% in July, double Japan’s average, but almost half of the U.S.’s current 9.6% rate.
Why does Japan have lower unemployment? There are numerous reasons cited – everything from over-employment in the agriculture sector to uncounted married women and protective conglomerates to better disincentives in unemployment insurance program. Overshadowing these reasons is the unmistakable aging of the Japanese population. The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research predicts the Japanese population will fall 30% to 90 million by 2055. Low birthrates, limited immigration, and retirement all increase demand for employment, therefore Japan’s younger-age workforce becomes a scarcer resource and will be more likely to secure and maintain employment. Eventually, I will become old enough in retirement that I will need my underwear and bedpan changed, and create a job for someone in the process – a job that cannot be outsourced I may add. Of course there are very few countries that want a declining population, even if it may lead to an improved unemployment rate. A growing country with liberal immigration laws, healthy birthrates, abundant resources, and pro-business initiatives may have higher unemployment rates but also have more jobs available because of the growing workforce.
Eventually the 76 million Baby Boomers born between 1946-1964 are going to be exiting the workforce and will increase the burden on our younger workforce. Do we want to follow in the same path of Japan? Or do we want to adjust our legislative process to meet the draining demands of our aging society? My answers are “No,” and “Yes,” respectively.
The unemployment hypochondriacs can take a deep breath knowing the path we are experiencing is nothing new. Certainly I would like to see better policies implemented to accelerate the economic recovery, but regardless of what inept politicians bungle, our innovative companies, and restless voters are waking up to keep our representatives accountable. This is important because we are like a younger but stronger cousin of Japan, and we do not want to follow along the decaying path of an aging indebted country. In the short-run, we all want to see job growth for the millions of unemployed. In the long-run, retiring Boomers will be stretching the resources of our country even more. So although the unemployment hypochondriacs have little to fear in the near-term as the recovery continues, fiscal responsibility needs to be kept in check or hidden economic illnesses may become reality.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in BHP, POT, HPQ, PAR, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.