While the Federal Reserve's interventions continue to create a wealth effect for market participants, it is something only enjoyed primarily by those at the upper end of the pay scale. For the rest of the country, the key issue is between the "have and have nots" - those that have a job and those that don't. While it is true that the country is creating jobs every month, the data may be suggesting it is "as good as it gets." Of course, this is a very disappointing statement when you consider that roughly 1 in 3 people sit outside of the workforce, 20% of the population uses food stamps, and 100 million people access some form of welfare assistance. The good news is, we aren't in a recession? Yet...
Many have opined that while the unemployment rate may be 6.6%, down from a peak of 10% three and a half year ago, the so-called recovery sure doesn't feel like one: after all so many Americans are still struggling to find work and as so many complain, employers are simply not hiring. Well, as it turns out, all those complaining are absolutely correct....
Last year we exposed the reasoning for the extremely predictable cyclicality in US macro-economic surprise data. Each year of the last few, the third quarter has exhibited unusual "strength" surprising 'economists' - thanks to government agencies executing their final budgets to use up all their allotments - only to stabilize in Q4 and the fade rapidly in Q1. 2013 was "different" as we had the government shutdown which threw the seasonal pattern off... but once the agencies were re-opened, the spice did flow and we got what is now clearly not a sustainable 'surprise' in growth but a lagged cyclical bounce. However, the lag introduced by the shutdown is now catching up to us - so it is different this time (2mo. lag) but the same...
After Friday's surge fest on weaker than expected news - perhaps expecting a tapering of the taper despite everyone screaming from the rooftops the Fed will never adjust monetary policy based on snowfall levels - overnight the carry trade drifted lower and pulled the correlated US equity markets down with it. Why? Who knows - after Friday's choreographed performance it is once again clear there is no connection between newsflow, fundamentals and what various algos decide to do. So (lack of) reasons aside, following a mainly positive close in Asia which was simply catching up to the US exuberance from Friday, European equities have followed suit and traded higher from the get-go with the consumer goods sector leading the way after being boosted by Nestle and L'Oreal shares who were seen higher after reports that Nestle is looking at ways to reduce its USD 30bln stake in L'Oreal. The tech sector is also seeing outperformance following reports that Nokia and HTC have signed a patent and technology pact; all patent litigation between companies is dismissed. Elsewhere, the utilities sector is being put under pressure after reports that UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey urged industry watchdog Ofgem to examine the profits being made by the big six energy companies through supplying gas, saying that Centrica's British Gas arm is too profitable.
Much has been said about the January Non-farm payrolls number, which rose by 113K on expectations of a 180K increase, most of which has been focused on the US atmospheric conditions during the winter. There is a problem with those numbers: they don't really exist (as for the non-impact of "the weather" on jobs we showed previously that the number of people "not at work due to weather" as calculated by the BLS itself. this winter was lower than 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 - so much for historic winter weather). So what really happened in January? For the real answer we have to go to the BLS' non-seasonally adjusted data series. It is here that we find that in January, some 2.870 million real, actual jobs were lost, not gained. Putting this further in perspective, the number of NSA jobs losses in January 2014 was greater than in January of 2013, 2012, 2011 and tied that of 2010. In fact only during the peak of the depression in January 2009 was there a greater NSA drop in the first month of the year when 3.691 million jobs were lost.
So what happened to the unemployment rate that it dropped so fast it surprised and embarrassed even the "venerable" Federal Reserve, which had initially expected a 6.5% unemployment rate some time in 2015. To get the answer we go back in time to the last (and only previous) time when the US unemployment rate dropped from roughly 10%, which was in June 1983, to 6.6%, which took place three and half years later, in December 1986 - let's call it the "Reagan Recovery" in short.
While The White House crows of the falling unemployment rate (which everyone now knows is entirely useless as an indicator of anything), the rapid-drop in this indicator is a major headache for the Fed. While forward-guidance is crucial in replacing the "common knowledge" that the Fed remains easier-for-longer as bond-buying is tapered, despite it's dismissal by vice-chair Stan Fischer and BoE's Carney (and even an almost admission of its weakness by Bernanke), Yellen faces a market that is betting massively (actually in record size) that short-term rates will rise and Fed heads like Lacker shift to "more qualitative ways" of maintaining the punchbowl.
December and January saw dismal job gains based on the NFP data... but as we now know, thanks to Zandi and Liesman, that we should ignore it because it's all about the weather. So, confused, we looked at the number of employed people who are "not working due to weather" (thank you for the convenient series BLS) to gauge the significance of the impact... it appears, from the chart below, that more people were out of work due to weather in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012...?
With the HFT brigade selling then buying, and trying to goalseek an explanation of why this happened after the fact, one key aspect of today's release that was ignored is that the BLS just revised its Establishment Survey data, in the process changing all historical job numbers. To wit: "Establishment survey data have been revised as a result of the annual benchmarking process and the updating of seasonal adjustment factors. Also, household survey data for January 2014 reflect updated population estimates." As a result of this revision, while the monthly changes were not that dramatic, what happened is that the "stock" level of jobs as reflected in the Establishment Survey rose by half a million as of December 31, from 136,877 to 137,386. And so all key historic data - from GDP in early 2013 to jobs - has now been revised to reflect a more rosy economy, and instill consumers with even more confidence in hopes they will spend, spend, spend.
Ugly jobs report in which not even the spin brigade could find anything to cheer, after even the BLS said the atrocious December print was not due to the weather when it did not revise the December number? No worries: here is what the market is using as a goalseeked justification to send the futures off its post report plunge lows to a level higher than where it was before the report. See if you can spot it...
- HSBC 171K
- Barclays 175K
- Citigroup 180K
- Bank of America 185K
- Deutsche Bank 200K
- UBS 200K
- Goldman Sachs 200K
- JP Morgan 205K
It's that time again, when a largely random, statistically-sampled, weather-impacted, seasonally-adjusted, and finally goalseeked number, sets the mood in the market for the next month: we are talking of course about the "most important ever" once again non-farm payroll print, and to a lesser extent the unemployment rate which even the Fed has admitted is meaningless in a time when the participation rate is crashing (for the "philosophy" of why it is all the context that matters in reading the jobs report, see here). Adding to the confusion, or hilarity, or both, is that while everyone knows it snowed in December and January, Goldman now warns that... it may have been too hot! To wit: "We expect a weather-related boost to January payroll job growth because weather during the survey week itself - which we find is most relevant to a given month's payroll number - was unusually mild." In other words, if the number is abnormally good - don't assume more tapering, just blame it on the warm weather!
This is an important jobs report. Not because it matters in the least whether the US economy added 170,000 new jobs or 185,000 new jobs. Not because it matters a whit whether the unemployment rate goes up or down 1/10th of 1 percent. No, the importance of this jobs report rests in two related linguistic games. Here's how to translate the lingo.... and then how to trade it.
Less than a year ago, David Rosenberg fundamentally shifted his thesis from deflationary to stagflationary at first, and then to outright inflationary, aka from bearish to bullish, based on one simple thesis: labor costs, and thus wage inflation - that all important harbinger of broad economic inflation - have nowhere to go but up. Unfortunately, they also have another direction they can go: down.
With all eyes hope-full-y transfixed on tomorrow's non-farm payrolls data and its confirmation-biased 'select-a-headline' post-data farce, we thought it worth a look at the noise in the signal and a reminder, as Bloomberg's Joseph Brusuelas notes, the annual benchmark revisions that will be published and likely obliterate everything we thought we knew about job growth (or lack of). As Brusuelas notes, the January jobs report is likely to be better-than-forecast because the weather-impacted December estimate will see upward revisions as firms probably made up for hiring postponed during the previous month. While weather effects may dominate the topline estimate, the underlying trend in hourly and weekly earnings is likely to remain quite weak since it’s not contingent on swings in seasonal patterns.