The Sesame Street Jobs 'Recovery'
After deconstructing the labor report for signs of false positives, Michael Cembalest of JPMorgan, sees muddle-through data in the US as sustaining a below trend growth rate - noting his belief that the US economy would not withstand a withdrawal of stimulus (read promise of liqudity to come) right now. While not as ebulient as many on the street, the JPM CIO sees a US job market that is gradually getting better - as is spending. However, what keeps him up at night is the budget deficit (as we noted very specifically last night). Critically, jobless claims have just crossed a threshold that in the past has signaled risk-on is primed to pay-off as the business cycle becomes self-sustaining but at the same time, the budget deficit is at massively 'different-this-time' levels. As he notes: "But as Big Bird used to say, one of these things is not like the other: the US primary budget deficit which supports this recovery is a bigger now", and so the US economy had better improve markedly in order to merely 'pay-the-freight'.
A chart I saw on the history of jobless claims (above) was meant to show how good things may get. In the prior 3 business cycles, when continuing claims fell through 2.2% of the labor force (1982, 1993, 2003), it was a great time to add risk in portfolios. Improving claims signaled that the business cycle was picking up enough steam to be self-sustaining, and last week, the US crossed through this barrier again. But as Big Bird used to say, one of these things is not like the other: the US primary budget deficit which supports this recovery is a bigger now. So, the US economy better improve markedly in order to pay the freight.
When will this chart on the primary deficit (above) matter to financial markets? Only when it becomes a binding constraint, either due to a lack of demand to finance the deficit at current yields, or due to the economic cost of closing it. The timing is uncertain, given Central Bank purchases of Treasury bonds, and a Congress which may leave the problem for another day (or generation). I lose a lot of sleep over this, but I don’t know a lot of other people that do.