Bureau of Labor Statistics
Since the end of the recession businesses have been increasing their bottom line profitability by massive cost cuts rather than increased revenue. Of course, one of the highest "costs" to any business is labor. One way that we can measure this view is by looking at corporate profits on a per employee basis. Currently, that ratio is at the highest level on record. The problem that businesses are beginning to face currently is that while they have slashed labor costs to the bone there is a point to where businesses simply cannot cut further. At this point businesses have to begin to "hoard" what labor they have, maximize that labor force's productivity (increase output with minimal increases in labor costs) and hire additional labor, primarily temporary, only when demand forces expansion. The issue of "labor hoarding" also explains the sharp drop in initial weekly jobless claims. This is likely obscuring the real weakness in the underlying economy. Without an increase in the demand part of the equation businesses are likely to continue resorting to further productivity increases to stretch the current labor force farther to protect profitability. However, as we may currently be witnessing, businesses may be reaching the limits of what they can do.
“Labor market conditions are affected by a variety of factors outside a central bank’s control,” admitted the Fed's Jeffrey Lacker after the employment report bounced around the world.
The trajectory of self-employment from 1970 to the mid-2000s tracked general economic growth, which was weak in the 1970s but began a 30-year boom in the early 1980s. Things changed in the recession, as the self-employed ranks have lost 1.6 million from the peak in 2007. The number of self-employed has fallen to early 1980s levels. Small business is the incubator of employment. As it declines, so too do opportunities for first jobs, second chances and economic independence.
Did anyone seriously believe the global economy was expanding so robustly that corporate profits would loft ever higher? Based on what data? Laughably bogus data from China, where warehouses are bulging with stockpiles of aluminum and copper, and a diminishing-return housing/credit bubble is the only "engine of growth"? Or was it the equally bogus unemployment rate in the U.S. that inspired such confidence? Did money managers really not notice that most of those new jobs are part-time, and that the rate is only low because millions of people have statistically been disappeared from the workforce by central planners? Wages, private-sector employment and labor's share of the economy have all declined: no wonder the risk-on recovery is rolling over.
The jobs recovery is a complete and total myth. The percentage of the working age population in the United States that had a job in March 2013 was exactly the same as it was all the way back in March 2010. In addition, as you will see below, there are now more than 101 million working age Americans that do not have a job. But even though the employment level in the United States has consistently remained very low over the past three years, the Obama administration keeps telling us that unemployment is actually going down. Anyone that tells you that "a higher percentage of Americans are working today" is telling you a complete and total lie. The sad truth is that there has been no jobs recovery whatsoever. If things were getting better, there would not be more than 101 million working age Americans without a job.
The insecurity of self-employment can generate a far more resilient life and mindset. In a sense being self-employed simply means stripping away the artifice that somebody else is going to take care of you or give you "free money." Once we understand the promised security is bogus, self-employment doesn't feel so risky--it feels like embracing the risk that is hidden behind the flimsy facade of team-building, "guaranteed" pensions and all the rest of the unpayable promises.
These photos illustrate the fundamentally arbitrary nature of fiat (paper) money. Why do we prefer the $100 greenback over the $100 trillion note issued by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe? The purchasing power of the Benjamin far exceeds the purchasing power of the $100 trillion bill. But the Benjamin is not immune to inflation; the dollar has lost about 95% of its 1900 purchasing power. If 95% of households are experiencing a loss of purchasing power and most of the new money and credit are flowing to the top 5%, you get asset bubbles, not demand-driven inflation. When 95% of the households are poorer in terms of purchasing power and financial wealth, where can demand-driven inflation arise in a global economy of massive manufacturing and labor over-capacity? The rise in costs within industries controlled by cartels (healthcare, higher education, defense, etc.) may look like demand-driven inflation, but are actually transfers of wealth and purchasing power from households to the government-protected cartels.
The US has been lying to all of us for decades now.We’re not talking about some kooky conspiracy theory… we’re talking about something that affects every man woman and child in the US.
The latest release of the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Survey was a bit of dichotomy of interpretation. Is the inventory increase really a sign of optimism or is it an unwanted buildup as sales have slowed as shown by the latest wholsesale inventory report? Are capital outlays really a sign of optimism or is it simply just required maintenance and upkeep? The interpretation of the data is key to understanding the direction of the overall economy. Economic confidence still remains at levels lower than in 2011 or in 2008 during the depths of the financial crisis. Concerns for businesses remain weighted toward the consumer and the government. Weak sales, government regulations and taxes are the top 3 biggest headwinds curtailing small business currently. With the upcoming debates over the debt ceiling and the budget it is unlikely that these concerns are going to improve much anytime soon.
This objective report concisely summarizes important macro events over the past week. It is not geared to push an agenda. Impartiality is necessary to avoid costly psychological traps, which all investors are prone to, such as confirmation, conservatism, and endowment biases.
As we said a week ago in "Scapegoating Nemo", it was only a matter of time before Wall Street's heroic band of permabullish lemmings used a snow storm in the middle of, gasp, winter, as a "valid" excuse to justify why an economy priced to central planning-perfection may deviate slightly from a path that has missed every major upside inflection point in the past four years (but... but, there is always a reason... if only for the Fed to print). And appropriately enough, the first such excuse comes from none other than Groundhog Phil's nemesis Joe LaVorgna who just cut his Non-farm payroll forecast to 125K due to "inclement winter weather." Truly odd how there is never an exogenous reason for "better than expected" data. Ever. Next, and as always, rain in the spring will be blamed for a Durable Goods plunge in April, sun and balmy warm weather in the summer will be the cause of a collapse in retail spending in July, and finally, a gust of wind in the fall will lead to a double dip depression.
It’s getting worse
The quest for cheap energy and cheap labor is a conquering human urge, one that has played out with notable ferocity starting with the Industrial Revolution. The introduction of coal into British manufacturing, and the more recent outsourcing of Western manufacturing to Asia, have marked key thresholds in this ongoing progression. But despite the harvesting of additional productivity gains from the more recent revolution in information technology, the suite of macro data suggests that the rate of advancement in physical production has slowed, notably, in the past thirty years. Seen in this light, the greatest gains to global industrial production were probably enjoyed from the late 18th century (when coal extraction and use began in earnest) into the mid-20th century (when oil reached broad distribution). In contrast, computers, the Internet, and the leveraging of developing world labor might eventually be seen as the finishing touches on this great industrial wave.
The purpose of asset purchases by the Fed might no longer be improvements in the real economy, but rather a more subtle financing of U.S. government deficits. However, in the long run, expanding the money supply inevitably leads to inflationary pressures. Luckily for the Fed and the U.S. government, there is so much slack in the labour market that inflation might be years away. And, if we are right about the long run unemployment rate being structurally higher, then the Fed has all the room it needs to continue Quantitative Easing (QE) to infinity. This might allow them to continue to hide the true financial position of the government for many years to come. Nonetheless, the rising GAAP deficit and the sheer size of the U.S. Federal Government’s liabilities to its citizens makes it clear that one day or another, services (health care, social security) will have to be cut. Financial alchemy can hide reality, but it does not provide any tangible services. Europe’s (unresolved) experience with its debt crisis provides an insightful window into the future. Austerity measures in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece have caused tremendous pain to their citizens (25% unemployment rates) and wreaked havoc in their economies (double digit retail sales declines). Are we going to ignore the obvious?
The reliable data which policymakers and the public need if effective solutions are to be found is not available. As Tullett Prebon's Tim Morgan notes, economic data has been subjected to incremental distortion; Data distortion can be divided into two categories. Economic data has been undermined by decades of methodological change which have distorted the statistics to the point where no really accurate data is available for the critical metrics of inflation, growth, output, unemployment or debt. Fiscal data, meanwhile, obscures the true scale of government obligations. While he does not believe that the debauching of US official data is the result of any grand conspiracy to mislead the American people; he does see it as an incremental process which has taken place over more than four decades. From 'owner equivalent rent" to 'hedonics', few series have been distorted more than published numbers for inflation, and few if any economic measures are of comparable importance; and the ramifications of understated inflation are huge.