Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Industrial production and retail sales both had strong 4th Quarters

 - by New Deal democrat

Whether due to a bounce from hurricane interruptions, or some other reasons, both real retail sales and industrial production have now completed very strong 4th Quarters.

Together they point to a good GDP print next week.

This post is up at

Monday, January 15, 2018

Minority unemployment: progress vs. prejudice

 - by New Deal democrat

On this Martin Luther King Day, let's take a look at minority unemployment. This got a little attention earlier this month when the December jobs report showed the smallest gap ever between the unemployment rates of blacks and whites.

So let's start by confirming the good news.  Indeed last month saw the smallest gap ever between the unemployment rates of the two groups:

The secular trend over the last 40 years has been very slow progress, as the relative low in unemployment from the early 1970s was superseded in the 1990s, which in turn was superseded by that of the 2000s, and now that too has been eclipsed.  But of course, the black unemployment rate has for that entire time been higher than that for whites.

Next, let's compare black and Latino unemployment:

Similarly, for the entire forty year period, the rate of African American unemployment has been higher than that of Latino unemployment. What is most telling is that this metric hit a low point over 20 years ago. Since 1995 the proportion of Latino unemployment has decreased compared with black unemployment. 

I believe this has had important political consequences. Like African American unemployment, the Latino unemployment rate has risen relative to white unemployment during and after recessions, and improved as expansions continues.  Unlike black unemployment, however, Latino unemployment never blew out in the late 1970s and 1980s, and more strikingly, in both of this and the last expansion has come within 1.2% of white unemployment:

On the one hand, while we don't have any historical statistics that I am aware of with earlier immigrant groups, I suspect that Latinos hare having a typical immigrant experience: the first generation establishes the beachhead, and the second and thir d generations approach the employment norms of the majority natives.

But on the other hand, I think this has played a significant role in the backlash that gave us Donald Trump.  Remember that the single issue which most changed in importance motivating voters between 2012 and 2016 was immigration:

Considering that employment in smaller metro areas and rural ares has not grown so strongly  during this expansion, and especially bearing in mind that roughly 1/4 of the Latino population (about 12 million of 48 million) are undocumented workers or illegal aliens, depending on your preference, I suspect that the ethnic backlash by Trump voters and the relatively good performance of Latino vs. white unemployment is not a coincidence.

Finally, in view of the continued difference between black and white unemployment rates, I wanted to take a look at how that breaks down by education, since the  disparity in college educations may be one reason for the difference in in the rates.

But that isn't the case.  Here are two separate graphs of unemployment, one of which also includes Latinos and Asians, and the other of which brakes down education by 5 levels:

When we consider that even with a conquerable education, the rate of  black unemployment is still above that of Latino unemployment, and  that black college graduates have an unemployment rate equivalent to that of whites who don't even have an associates degree, I am afraid that racial prejudice still plays a role in the jobs market.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Weekly Indicators for January 8 - 12 at

 - by New Deal democrat

My Weekly Indicators post is up at

This week a lot of the data was affected by holiday seasonality, because it was for the week of New Year's Day.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Real wages in 2017

 - by New Deal democrat

Now that we have the report on consumer prices for December, let's take a look at what happened with real wages in 2017.

Consumer prices increased +0.1% in December, and wages for non-managerial workers rose 0.3%,  This for that month the average worker earned 0.2% more.

For the year, the nominal wages of non-managerial workers rose 2.4%, while prices increased 2.1%, meaning that for the entire year workers saw a whopping 0.3% increase in real pay:

Here's a close-up of the last 5 years:

But because inflation accelerated slightly in the second half of the year, and nominal pay increases slackened, real pay has actually decreased roughly -0.8% since peaking in July, and is barely up at all over the last 24 months.

Next let's take a look at the real aggregate pay that non-managerial workers earned in 2017.  I like this measure because it tells me how much the economy as a whole has delivered to the middle and working class during the economic expansion.  Here's the graph:

For the entire expansion, real aggregate pay has increased ~23%.  On a YoY basis, aggregate real payrolls increased about 2.5%, about the average for this expansion:

In other words, consumers have more money in the aggregate, but only because the number of hours and jobs in the economy has increased, and almost not at all because their individual hourly pay increased in real terms in 2017.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Hiring leads firing: adding initial jobless claims to the mix

 - by New Deal democrat

In yesterday's post, I pointed out that, in the JOLTS data, hiring leads firing.

A more frequent and timely measure of firing is the weekly initial jobless claims, which also almost always turn significantly in advance of recessions. I have a post up at, looking at hiring vs. firing this way.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

JOLTS report confirms November payrolls strength

 - by New Deal democrat

I'm changing my presentation of JOLTS data somewhat compared with the last year or two.  At this point I've pretty much beaten the dead horses of (1) "job openings" are soft and unreliable data, and should be ignored in contrast with the hard "hires" series; and (2) the overall trend is that of late expansion but no imminent downturn.

So let's start a little differently, by comparing nonfarm payrolls from the jobs report with what should theoretically be identical data: total hires minus total separations in the JOTLS report, monthly (first graph) and quarterly (second graph):

While there can be a considerable disparity in any one month, once we start looking longer term there is an incredibly tight fit.

For our immediate purposes, it's likely that the strength in the JOLTS hiring data over the last several months is the same trend as the very good post-hurricane October and November jobs reports, both of  which showed that more than 200,000 jobs had been added. While any given month can be off significantly, it's a fair bet that when the December JOLTS report is released in one month, it too will be weaker, just as was the December jobs report.

Next, my mantra is that hiring leadis firing, so that part of the presentation is still important. To reeiterate, the major shortcoming of this report is that it has only covered one full business cycle. In that cycle, in acord with my mantra, hires peaked and troughed before separations: 

Here's what this data looks like monthly for the last 24 months:

Just as at the bottom of the Great Recession, at the end of the "shallow industrial recession" of 2015, hiring (red) troughed first, followed later in 2016 by separations (blue).  With hiring up, I expect the level of separations to also increase (note some of these are voluntary) in the next few months as well.

Further, in the previous cycle, after hires stagnated, shortly thereafter involuntary separations began to rise, even as quits continued to rise for a short period of time as well:

[Note: above graphs show quarterly data to smooth out noise]

Here are hires vs. separations on a monthly basis for the last 24 months:

While quits remain at expansionary high levels, they seem to have stagnated in the last 6 months. With hiring increasing again, if the pattern from the last decade holds, I would expect quits to improve somewhat as well. 

Meanwhile the good news is that involuntary separations have fallen in the last several months, even if we average the last two. At the same time, they remain above thei bottom they established a year ago: 

Once again the report yesterday was a good one, mirroring November's jobs report, but on the other hand, it is very consistent with being late in the cycle. Since hiring leads firing, what I am looking for next is at what point dies hiring stagnate, and will it be confirmed by continued stagnation in quites?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A US economic Boom in 2018?

 - by New Deal democrat

For the last several years, I have tried to identify several graphs that most bear watching over the ensuing 12 months. This year, in addition to watching bond yields like everybody else, the data that most bears watching, it seems to me, can be summed up in the question: Is the US economy about to enter a Boom?

The recent economic news has almost all been good. In particular the unemployment rate has dropped as low as 4%. Meanwhile, the GOP certaionly believes -- I most certainly don't -- that the recent tax changes are going to unleash a torrent of Capex spending and wage increases (as opposed to mergers, acquisitions, stock buybacks and executive pay bonanzas).

So, is the economy on the verge of firing on all cylinders?

There is no standard definition of a Boom. But since I am a fossil, in my lifetime I have experienced two times when it certainly felt like the economy was working extremely well and on a very broad basis: the 1960s and the late 1990s tech era.  The "good times" feeling of both eras was palpable. Employment was rampant and average people felt that their situations were going well.

What distinguished those to eras from all the other economic expansions?  I found five markers that stand out, and two that, oddly, didn't.  

Let's start with the first marker: the unemployment rate (note that the U6 underemployment rate wasn't reported in its current configuration until 1994, and so is not helpful). In both the 1960s and the late 1990s, the unemployment rate hit 4.5% or below for extended periods of time:

While these weren't the only two periods of low unemployment, they are among those that stand out, in particular vs. the 1970s and 1980s, none of which expansions hit such a low mark. 

Now let me examine the two markers that didn't make the cut.  You would think that industrial production and capacity utilization would be making strong new peaks during Booms vs. other expansions. But that isn't the case. industrial production (blue, left scale below) has made new peaks during each expansion, while capacity utilization (red, right scale) has been relentlessly declining:

What does stand out at least somewhat is the duration and rate at which industrial production grew during both Booms. During both the 1960s and 1990s, production grew at or over 4% a year for extended periods of time, not just right after the end of a recession  

So the rate of growth of industrial production is the second marker of a Boom.

The third and fourth markers iare the rate of growth of real average earnings for non-managerial employees, both individually and in the aggregate.  During the two Booms, in contrast to other expansions, real average hourly earnings also grew at roughly 1% YoY or better:

Meanwhile, real aggregate earnings grew at a rate of 4% YoY or better:

Here's what three of those markers look like when put together in one graph:

The fifth and final  marker of a Boom -- probably as the byproduct of the first four -- is an increase in the YoY rate of inflation:

So, to summarize, when they occur together, the five markers of an economic Boom are the following: 

1. An unemployment rate under 4.5%
2. YoY industrial production growth of at least 4%
3. YoY real wage growth of at least 1%
4. YoY real aggregate wage growth of at least 4%
5. Increasing YoY inflation.

As we begin 2018, only the first and last markers are present: we have low unemployment, and at least temporarily, the YoY inflation rate is higher than it was a year ago. But industrial production is not growing as fast as either of the last two Booms, and real wage  growth has continued to be lackluster.
Based on my lieffetime experience, while the US economy is currently doing pretty well in general, it is not anywhere near a Boom, at least not yet.
I'll continue to track these indicators during 2018.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Weekly Indicators for January 1 - 5 at

 - by New Deal democrat

My Weekly Indicators post is up at

There was a very positive start to 2018.

Sorry about the late posting -- computer issues.

Friday, January 5, 2018

December jobs report: late cycle mediocre growth reasserts itself

- by New Deal democrat

  • +143,000 jobs added
  • U3 unemployment rate unchanged at 4.1%
  • U6 underemployment rate rose  +0.1% from 8.0% to 8.1%
Here are the headlines on wages and the chronic heightened underemployment:

Wages and participation rates
  • Not in Labor Force, but Want a Job Now: rose +43,000 from 5.265 million to 5.308 million   
  • Part time for economic reasons: rose +64,000 from 4.851 million to 4.915 million
  • Employment/population ratio ages 25-54: rose +0.1% from 79.0% to 79.1%
  • Average Weekly Earnings for Production and Nonsupervisory Personnel: rose $.0.07 from  $22.23 to $22.30, up +2.3% YoY.  (Note: you may be reading different information about wages elsewhere. They are citing average wages for all private workers. I use wages for nonsupervisory personnel, to come closer to the situation for ordinary workers.)     
Holding Trump accountable on manufacturing and mining jobs

 Trump specifically campaigned on bringing back manufacturing and mining jobs.  Is he keeping this promise?  
  • Manufacturing jobs rose by +25,000 for an average of  +17,500 a month vs. the last seven years of Obama's presidency in which an average of 10,300 manufacturing jobs were added each month.   
  • Coal mining jobs fell -400 for an average of -63 a month vs. the last seven years of Obama's presidency in which an average of -300 jobs were lost each month
October was revised downward by -33,000. November was revised upward by +24,000, for a net change of -9,000.   

The more leading numbers in the report tell us about where the economy is likely to be a few months from now. These were mixed.
  • the average manufacturing workweek fell -0.1 hour from 40.9 hours to 40.8 hours.  This is one of the 10 components of the LEI.
  • construction jobs increased by +30,000. YoY construction jobs are up +210,000.  
  • temporary jobs increased by +7,000. 
  • the number of people unemployed for 5 weeks or less decreased by -18,000 from 2,253,000 to 2,235,000.  The post-recession low was set over two years ago at 2,095,000.
Other important coincident indicators help  us paint a more complete picture of the present:
  • Overtime was unchanged at 3.5 hours.
  • Professional and business employment (generally higher- paying jobs) increased by  +19,000 and  is up +488,000 YoY.

  • the index of aggregate hours worked in the economy rose by 0.1%  from 115.9 to  116.0.
  •  the index of aggregate payrolls rose by  0.7%  from 172.2 to 172.9.     
Other news included:           
  • the  alternate jobs number contained  in the more volatile household survey increased by  +104,000  jobs.  This represents an increase of 1,267,000 jobs YoY vs. 2,055,000 in the establishment survey.      
  • Government jobs rose by 2,000.       
  • the overall  employment to  population ratio for all ages 16 and up was unchanged at 60.1 m/m  and is up + 0.3% YoY.         
  • The  labor force participation  rate was unchanged m/m and is also unchanged YoY at 62.7%   

This was a mediocre but not bad report.  There was growth in almost all sectors of employment. Participation measures were positive. Aggregate payrolls and hours increased. 

But there were concerning signs of late cycle deceleration as well. The underemployment rate increased for the second month in a row, and the unemployment rate is up from two months ago. Involuntary part-time employment and those outside of the workforce who want a job now both increased. And wage growth is actually declining.

Bottom line: after several months of post-hurricane bounces, we are back to a late cycle dynamic.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

My forecast for H1 2018

 - by New Deal democrat

The first part of my two-part forecast for 2018 is up at

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

What's Up With the Asset Backed and Commercial Paper Market?

Above are three charts for the short-term asset backed market.  Over the last month, we've seen increased spreads.  The overnight market (top chart) is a bit higher.  But the 30-day spread (middle chart) and 90-day spread (bottom chart) have both spiked pretty sharply.  

We're also seeing increased spreads in the short-term commercial paper market.

Commodities and Inflation

Above is a group of charts that track the major commodity ETFs.  There are two groups of prices that could cause inflation to move higher.

1.) Energy prices (second from the left, second row from the top): oil obviously plays into this (upper left hand corner), but so does the price of gas (left chart on the very bottom).

2.) Industrial metals (upper right-hand corner) and copper (third from the top left):  The industrial metals ETF largely tracks copper, which is in the middle of a rally.  But other industrial metals are also increasing, such as palladium.

Is this enough to spur prices higher?  Probably now.  Energy prices only account for about 7% of the overall CPI calculation.  Food prices are responsible for approximatley 13% of CPI, and those are all decreasing.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Oil Chart is Setting Up Very Bullishly To Start the Year

Oil is looking very bullish right now.

On the daily chart (top chart), prices are in a multi-month uptrend.  They recently consolidated gains in a triangle pattern and are now at a 1-year high.  The moving averages are setting up in a bullish manner: they're all increasing, the shorter EMAs are above the longer EMAs and prices are above the EMAs.  The MACD has plenty up upside potential at current levels.

The weekly chart (bottom chart) is also very bullish.  Prices consolidated around the 200-week EMA and have since moved higher.  The MACD is also rising and has plenty of upside room. 

When a security sets up in bullishly in several time frames, the odds of a bullish advance increase.  

This is one of the charts I recently said was key to 2018.