Bureau of Labor Statistics
You've probably noticed the cookie-cutter format of most financial media "news": a few key "buzz words" (fiscal cliff, Bush tax cuts, etc.) are inserted into conventional contexts, and this is passed off as either "reporting" or "commentary" depending on the number of pundits sourced. Correspondent Frank M. kindly passed along a template that is "officially deny its existence" secret within the mainstream media. With this template, you could launch your own financial media channel, ready to compete with the big boys. Heck, you could hire some cheap overseas labor to make a few Skype calls to "the usual suspects," for-hire academics, hedge fund gurus, etc. and actually attribute the fluff to a real person.
Get ready for the "it's all Sandy's fault" barrage, because the post-reelection status quo sure will desperately need it today. The latest initial claims data posted a multi-year high 104,548 surge in weekly NSA claims from 361,800 to 466,348, and even the Seasonally adjusted number soaring from 361K to 439K on expectations of a 375K print. In other words, a complete disaster for any economic data bulls. What is truly amusing is that the same Wall Street "experts" who set expectations were unable to foresee the Sandy effect that every "macrotourist" on Twitter apparently is so very aware of. Also, it is apparently also "Sandy's fault" (now that the Bush excuse is back in retirement) that the prior week's claims were revised from 355K to 361K. Basically, just as we said 3 weeks ago, ignore every negative data point: it is Sandy's fault. However, for the snapback, when there actually is good news to be had, well, "four more years." Finally, to all the Sandy apologists: is the logic here that: if Hurricane, then Fire everyone? Because that is what is implied. To summarize: a hurricane is good for GDP (lots of broken windows), but any actually negative news (surge in firings) is perfectly expected.
Whenever the case is made for a stronger U.S. dollar (USD), the feedback can be sorted into three basic reasons why the dollar will continue declining in value:
- The USD may gain relative to other currencies, but since all fiat currencies are declining against gold, it doesn’t mean that the USD is actually gaining value; in fact, all paper money is losing value.
- When the global financial system finally crashes, won’t that include the dollar?
- The Federal Reserve is “printing” (creating) money, and that will continue eroding the purchasing power of the USD. Lowering interest rates to zero has dropped the yield paid on Treasury bonds, which also weakens the dollar.
All of these objections are well-grounded. However, the price of gold is not consistently correlated to the monetary base, the trade-weighted dollar, or interest rates. We have seen interest rates leap to 16% and fall to near-zero; gold collapse, stagnate, and then quadruple; and the dollar gain and lose 30% of its trade-weighted value in a few years. None of these huge swings had any correlation to broad measures of domestic activity such as GDP. Clearly, interest rates occasionally (but not always) affect the value of the trade-weighted dollar, and the monetary base occasionally (but not always) affects the price of gold, but these appear to have little correlation to productivity, earnings, etc., or to each other. Gold appears to march to an independent drummer.
While there had been speculation that the BLS may delay the release of its October nonfarm payroll number until after the election, it turned out there was no reason to worry. Perhaps this is because the number, while at stall speed, was not quite as horrible as some had expected (even if the change in average hourly earnings did tumble to new all time lows) and so boosted Obama's reelection chances. There was, however, another closely tracked number which perhaps is far more indicative of the economic "growth" in the past 4 years, which certainly had a delayed release. The number of course is that showing how many Americans are on foodstamps, and usually is released at the end of the month, or the first day or two of the next month. This time the USDA delayed its release nine days past the semi-official deadline, far past the election, and until Friday night to report August foodstamp data. One glance at the number reveals why: at 47.1 million, this was not only a new all time record, but the monthly increase of 420,947 from July was the biggest monthly increase in one year. One can see why a reported surge in foodstamps ahead of the elections is something the USDA, and the administration may not have been too keen on disclosing.
While Chinese government and consumer debt can be whatever China wants it to be (and when it isn't, any discharged and non-performing debt is merely masked over with more debt: China doesn't have $3 trillion in foreign reserves for nothing) corporate debt, in keeping with Western-style reporting requirements, is far more difficult to obfuscate and falsify in recent years. It is here that we get the first glimpse of the true sheer extent of the Chinese credit bubble, which as the chart below shows, is already the largest in the entire world.
"Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation and empire." Strauss & Howe wrote these words in 1997. They understood the dynamics of how generations interact and how the mood of the country shifts every twenty or so years based upon the generational alignment that occurs as predictably as the turning of the seasons. The last generation that lived through the entire previous Crisis from 1929 through 1946 has virtually died off. For those who doubt generational theory and believe history is a linear path of human progress, I would point to the last week of chaos, disarray, government dysfunction, and misery of those who didn’t prepare for Superstorm Sandy, as a prelude to the worst of this Crisis. The lack of preparation by government officials and citizens, death, destruction, panic, anger, helplessness and realization of how fragile our system has become is a perfect analogy to our preparation for this Fourth Turning. The regeneracy of the nation will occur during the next presidential term. The mathematical impossibility of sustaining our economic system is absolute.
Yesterday we assessed the impact a second Obama term would have on the US economy and markets. Now let’s assess what impact a Romney Presidency would have on the US economy and financial markets.
In the aftermath of yesterday's better than expected jobs number there have been many analyses in the media on both sides of the aisle, either attacking or defending Obama's track record in creating jobs. All have come up with arguments which according to their authors, are solid and defensible. There is one analysis, however, which is missing, and that is a follow up of what we showed yesterday in "Chart Of The Day: America's Geriatric Work F(a)rce." In it we demonstrated the very much "under the radar" schism of America's workforce since the NBER-defined official end of the recession in June 2009 into the "haves", or those above 55, who have been able to get a job since the end of the recession, and the "have nots", or all those in the labor force who have not been able to find a job. So how does this data look when extended to the beginning of Obama's term, or the 46 full months starting with his inauguration in January 2009, and continuing through the latest, October 2012 data point. The chart is presented below; you decide.
The traditional excuse apologists for America's collapsing labor force participation rate use every month is that due to "demographics" and retiring baby boomers, increasingly more old workers are no longer counted by the BLS and as a result, are skewing the labor force. That's where they leave it because digging into details is not really anyone's forte anymore. This would be great if it was true. It isn't. And nowhere is this more visible than in today's jobs report. On the surface, the US generated a whopping 413,000 jobs (after generating a massive 873,000 last month) according to the Household Survey in October. That's great, unfortunately breaking down this cumulative addition by age cohort confirms precisely what we have said: all the jobs are going to old workers, who have zero wage bargaining leverage (as they just want to have a day to day paycheck). To wit: when broken down by age group, the total October increase shows that of the new jobs, 10.7% went to those aged 16-19 (source), 11.6% went to those aged 20-24 (source), a tiny 9.8% went to the prime agr group: 25-54 (source), and a massive 67.8% went to America's baby boomers: those aged 55 and over (source), and who refuse to leave the workforce and make way for others.
As we first observed in February of 2012, we will not tire of repeating that when it comes to the jobs picture there are two key components: the quantitative, or the headline jobs and unemployment rate numbers everyone is fascinated by at 8:30 am each first Friday of the month, and the qualitative, or the number that gets far less attention, yet which is so very critical to Americans on those occasions they want to use their earned wages to purchase goods and services. And this is where the ugly side of today's jobs report came out. Because while the quantitative data was good, just as we and everyone else had expected from the final datapoint before the election (the good news there is that finally we will revert to reality following November 6), the qualitative data was ugly. How ugly? As the BLS reported, the average hourly earnings in October declined from $19.80 to $19.79 in September, and at $19.57 last October. This was only the fifth sequential decline in this series since the start of the Depression in December 2007. But more important was the Y/Y change in average hourly earnings. At 1.1% (down from 1.4% a month ago), this was the lowest Y/Y increase in this series, topping the collapse in real earnings which started in December 2008, and is now the lowest in history. In other words, more jobs may be added, but on a real basis, wages are not even keeping up with inflation!
Curious which sectors, according to the BLS, have been hiring in the past year? Per the Establishment survey, of the 1,949K or so jobs added in the past year, the bulk of additions have come to the Professional and Business Services sector (525K), Education and Health (414K), and Trade, Transportation and Utilities (345K). Government has actually seen a decline in total jobs in the past year.
Today's jobs number is expected to come at 125,000, with a high estimate of 154,000 from John Hancock financial, and a low of 30,000 from Westpac Banking, and with a whisper expectation at 150,000 courtesy of yesterday's "stronger than expected" ADP re-revised print. A beat or miss at over 1 standard deviation will promptly wake the HFT algos from their deep slumber. Wait did we say miss? Hah. Anyway, just to put today's seasonally adjusted expected monthly job growth in context, below is a chart showing the average seasonal adjustment for each month of the year in the past decade. In October, seasonal adjustments subtract just over 1 million "jobs" (purely statistically of course, merely to smooth the underlying "noise"). This means that the final monthly print will be just over 10% of the actual X-12-ARIMA goalseeked statistical adjustment. Add to this another ~80K or so which will be "added" from the birth death adjustment, and one can see how in the grand scheme of things, the statistical error factor alone dwarfs what is the actual underlying data. To think that in this labyrinth of layered adjustments to an actual number, the BLS will somehow allow the final number to be disappointing means having a locked bid on the Alaska to Russia bridge market.
Last week, when we reported last week's lucky Initial Claims expectations beat of 369K, we explicitly said the following: "today's Initial Claims number which magically "beat" expectations by 1K, printing at 369K, on expectations of 370K, will be revised to a miss of 372K next week." And guess what last week's number was just revised to? That's right: 372K, which means that last week's beat was actually a miss. But who cares. Oh, and this week's just as manipulated print of 363K, which was a beat of expectations of 370K, will be spun as a 9K drop in initial claims of course. Next week this number will be revised to 365K-366K as usual, because the BLS has now upward revised its weekly claims number for something like 80 weeks in a row.
Frequent readers know that in addition of any "data" and "numbers" out of Larry Yun's National Association of Realtors, which we openly boycott as these are consistently manipulated (recall the massive historical December 2011 revision), slanted and conflicted, the second dataset which we have mocked with a passion is anything coming out of the ADP, which every month releases its "Private Jobs" number a day before the official BLS Non-farm Payroll data. Today, our mockeries have been proven 100% spot on. The reason? A week ago, ADP announced that going forward it would coordinate with Moody's (yes, that Moody's), and especially its chief economist, SecTres hopeful (InTrade odds of actually attain that post: 0.00) Mark Zandi, to fudge adjust its data going forward. The data revision was supposed to be publicly disclosed tomorrow when the official October ADP number was released. Well, just like today's Chicago PMI, and so many other data points recently, this too was released early. What the early release allowed us to promptly calculate is that using the historically revised numbers, and comparing those based on the original methodology, in 2012 alone, the US would have lost a whopping... 365,000 private jobs! Putting thus number in context, according to the revised methodology, the US has generated only 1.172MM jobs in 2012 through September, or in other words, a statistical "fix" magically eliminated over 30% of what the market had previously expected were job gains, a number which the incumbent president has certain taken advantage of on more than one occasions while campaigning.
Following this morning's dismal employment sub-index from Chicago Fed PMI and the recent Philly Fed employment sub-index, the 'data' suggests that this week's (now confirmed by the BLS that NFP will be released on Friday as scheduled) payroll data could be the first negative print since September 2010. Of course, we are sure that pre-emptive Sandy 'action' and seasonal adjustments will explain away any miss from the current +125k estimate. Is this why the market is not levitating on moar broken windows?