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“Labor Hoarding”: New Theory Emerges To Explain The Lack Of Labor Market Collapse

"Labor Hoarding": New Theory Emerges To Explain The Lack Of Labor Market Collapse

Setting aside how credible any data released by the BLS…

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"Labor Hoarding": New Theory Emerges To Explain The Lack Of Labor Market Collapse

Setting aside how credible any data released by the BLS now is - considering that not just this website but even the Philly Fed has challenged the accuracy of the Payroll reports' Establishment survey, while Goldman recent found that actual layoffs as indicated by state WARN notices are far higher than those seasonally adjusted by the Department of Labor, there was one data point that prompted quite a few commentators to scratch their heads. Recall that one of the reasons stocks were pleasantly surprised by the jobs report is that not only did payrolls dip again (if printing as usual above average), but average hourly earnings slumped. But there was more: alongside the decline in wages, average hours worked also declined (which had a material impact on the average wages, and had hours been flat, the decline in average wages would have been even more pronounced).

Why does this matter? Well, as Goldman trader Rich Privorotsky wrote on Friday, the deceleration in wage gains as of late and "the shirking of hours worked is in no way consistent with a wage spiral, and in fact suggests something unusual might be happening as corporates reluctant to shed hard to find labor are shrinking the work-week/hours worked rather than cutting payrolls." This would make intuitive sense if one assumes that employers are still smarting from the difficulty to find workers in the post-covid months when millions of low and medium-income workers simply exited the workforce. As such, if everyone is convinced that the coming recession will be light, employers are more tempted to shrink (in some cases aggressively) their employees' hours rather then engage in layoffs, especially if they are concerned they will have difficulty finding workers in a few months (all of this, of course, assumes that the recession will be "shallow" whatever that means).

As evidence, Privorotsky shows the decline in the average employee workweek as proxied by both the Philadelphia and Empire Fed's surveys.

Others at Goldman agree, and in a note published by the bank's economist team looking at the ongoing rebalancing in the labor market (available to pro subs), they found that while Labor demand still remains high it is now falling: "The trend has admittedly become murkier recently as measures of job openings have diverged. But the average of these measures is still declining, and business surveys also suggest that total labor demand is still coming down."

Here is the interesting part in the Goldman report, :

Labor supply has at most a bit more room to recover. The discussion about labor supply during the pandemic has mostly centered on “missing workers,” and for the first couple of years there was indeed room for the labor force participation rate to rebound as fiscal support and Covid fears faded.

But we noted last summer that the participation rate had already largely recovered, and the small increase in December to 62.3% brought it to our year-end target that embedded some further cyclical recovery to offset an ongoing downward trend driven by demographics. While prime-age participation is still a bit below its pre-pandemic rate, the overall participation rate has now nearly returned to the CBO’s estimate of the trend implied by demographic changes, as shown on the left of Exhibit 4, and a new paper by economists Bart Hobijn and Ayşegül Şahin also suggests that the gap is largely closed.

The remaining labor supply shortfall relative to pre-pandemic trends actually comes less from reduced participation than from a decline in average work hours. In another paper, Şahin, R. Jason Faberman, and Andreas I. Mueller use data from a supplement to the New York Fed’s consumer survey to show that workers’ desired work hours dropped sharply during the pandemic and remained depressed at least through the end of 2021, when their data end, with much of the decline coming from people classified as outside of the labor force who occasionally enter it, such as retirees. New research by Dain Lee, Jinhyeok Park, and Yongseok Shin shows that average hours have fallen since 2019, especially among college-educated prime-age men and among those who work the longest hours, as shown on the right of Exhibit 4. Because, as the authors note, these workers work far longer hours than is typical for US workers let alone those in other high-income countries, this change might persist to some extent.

Maybe the best discussion on this topic comes from Amberwave co-founder Stephen Miran, who earlier today tweeted some of his observations on why the US is still not in a recession, and concludes that "the principal reason is the missing construction layoffs.  Mortgage rates shot up from 3% to 7%, making buying a home unaffordable for many folks.  Normally, one expects a slowdown in construction activity and layoffs.  But, construction employment is at all time highs!"

Arguing that in light of the dramatic slowdown in activity in the construction sector, "we'd expect huge layoffs"  with "expected layoffs in the neighborhood of 500k to 800k jobs, and with multipliers, this would be 1 to 3 million total losses. That's a real recession."

But these layoffs still haven't taken place, prompting Miran to proposed several explanations why not:

1. They will.  (Maybe, but I don't see -any- sign of them in the data...yet.). There are some reasons for expecting the layoffs to eventually come.  In particular, the huge divergence between the number of homes being sold and the number of homes currently under construction, which will presumably come down as homes are completed.

2. The extraordinary backlog of homes demand due to pandemic changes in the economy like wfh.  This is a possible explanation, but presumably at some point runs out?

3. Labor hoarding by builders, i.e. holding onto employees for fear of being able to replace them if necessary in a tight labor market.  Miran says that he is "generally dismissive of labor hoarding for the economy as a whole, but more sympathetic in the building sector.  Why?"

The principal reason is the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed in 2021.  As I pointed out at the time in WSJopinion, the IIJA is going to further fuel inflation.

Going into CY2023, there's going to be ~$38 billion of Federal spending on construction and other projects kicking in. In CY24, it'll be closer to $54 billion.  Assuming some multipliers, these go a long way to offsetting a big chunk of the decline in private structures spending. (Ignore the decline in direct spending here, that's largely the offsets from reduced spending on phrama or subsidies to GSEs)

In other words, I suspect builders are holding onto employees because the $$$ being spent by Uncle Sam on construction are going to start kicking in this year.  Given a historically tight labor market where employees seem to have all the power, they'd rather hold onto the workers

Why lay off your workers now if you expect real difficulty in hiring them back if building starts to pick back up, particularly for nonresidential construction?

While this may well be the most likely explanation, and one which will be tested most easily by the severity of the coming recession (if indeed there is labor hoarding within construction, an extended deterioration in the sector will only result in an even more acute collapse in construction jobs in the near-term), there is another possible explanation, namely that financial conditions have eased significantly since September: stocks, mortgage rates, the dollar.

It's not difficult to imagine a world in which home prices fall by 10% or so, but given strong wages, resilient stocks, and falling mortgage rates, final demand stays robust.  Given the historic run up in home prices, builders are still very profitable at those levels. In other words, maybe builders expect a surge of private demand in the near future and are therefore holding onto their employees.

Miran's conclusion is spot on, and boils down to the following: The missing construction layoffs ARE the missing recession.  If they come, we'll have a recession.  There's a reason for expecting them to come (homes under construction lagging sales), and reasons for expecting them not to (future demand picking up, private & public)

Watching this sector will give us a clue as to whether we'll see a recession or not.  In the meantime, real incomes are accelerating on lower inflation, and as I've stressed 100x, financial conditions easing ought to induce a pickup in GDP growth

There is thus some chance the economy reaccelerates before those layoffs come, and the recession is avoided.  However, in that case, the Fed will be goaded into a new hiking cycle, as inflation will pick back up, and the recession will be delayed and not avoided.

Afternote: there's a race between the exhaustion of the backlog & the coming construction layoffs, vs. a reacceleration of the economy on easing financial conditions & IIJA boosting construction demand. Which of these forces wins the race determines whether we have:

  • Recession, or
  • Burst of growth, followed by new hiking cycle, followed by recession

In other words, we will either get a recession, if construction employment suddenly tumbles, or we will get a transitory growth burst - largely on the back of the market pricing in the coming Fed pause - which will avoid a round of mass layoffs in construction, which will however lead to even more inflation, and an even more aggressive hiking cycle, leading also to recession.

Tyler Durden Mon, 01/23/2023 - 18:00

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Schedule for Week of January 29, 2023

The key reports scheduled for this week are the January employment report and November Case-Shiller house prices.Other key indicators include January ISM manufacturing and services surveys, and January vehicle sales.The FOMC meets this week, and the FO…

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The key reports scheduled for this week are the January employment report and November Case-Shiller house prices.

Other key indicators include January ISM manufacturing and services surveys, and January vehicle sales.

The FOMC meets this week, and the FOMC is expected to announce a 25 bp hike in the Fed Funds rate.

----- Monday, January 30th -----

10:30 AM: Dallas Fed Survey of Manufacturing Activity for January. This is the last of the regional Fed manufacturing surveys for January.

----- Tuesday, January 31st -----

9:00 AM: FHFA House Price Index for November. This was originally a GSE only repeat sales, however there is also an expanded index.

9:00 AM ET: S&P/Case-Shiller House Price Index for November.

This graph shows the Year over year change in the nominal seasonally adjusted National Index, Composite 10 and Composite 20 indexes through the most recent report (the Composite 20 was started in January 2000).

The consensus is for a 6.9% year-over-year increase in the Comp 20 index.

9:45 AM: Chicago Purchasing Managers Index for January. The consensus is for a reading of 44.9, down from 45.1 in December.

10:00 AM: The Q4 Housing Vacancies and Homeownership report from the Census Bureau.

----- Wednesday, February 1st -----

7:00 AM ET: The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) will release the results for the mortgage purchase applications index.

8:15 AM: The ADP Employment Report for January. This report is for private payrolls only (no government). The consensus is for 170,000 payroll jobs added in January, down from 235,000 added in December.

10:00 AM: Construction Spending for December. The consensus is for a 0.1% decrease in construction spending.

Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey10:00 AM ET: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey for December from the BLS.

This graph shows job openings (black line), hires (purple), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS.

Job openings decreased in November to 10.458 million from 10.512 million in October

10:00 AM: ISM Manufacturing Index for January. The consensus is for the ISM to be at 48.0, down from 48.4 in December.

2:00 PM: FOMC Meeting Announcement. The FOMC is expected to announce a 25 bp hike in the Fed Funds rate.

2:30 PM: Fed Chair Jerome Powell holds a press briefing following the FOMC announcement.

Vehicle SalesAll day: Light vehicle sales for January. The consensus is for light vehicle sales to be 14.3 million SAAR in January, up from 13.3 million in December (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate).

This graph shows light vehicle sales since the BEA started keeping data in 1967. The dashed line is the December sales rate.

----- Thursday, February 2nd -----

8:30 AM: The initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released.  The consensus is for 200 thousand initial claims, up from 186 thousand last week.
----- Friday, February 3rd -----

Employment Recessions, Scariest Job Chart8:30 AM: Employment Report for December.   The consensus is for 185,000 jobs added, and for the unemployment rate to increase to 3.6%.

There were 223,000 jobs added in December, and the unemployment rate was at 3.5%.

This graph shows the job losses from the start of the employment recession, in percentage terms.

The pandemic employment recession was by far the worst recession since WWII in percentage terms. However, as of August 2022, the total number of jobs had returned and are now 1.24 million above pre-pandemic levels.

10:00 AM: ISM Manufacturing Index for January. The consensus is for the ISM to be at 50.3, up from 49.6 in December.

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US gov’t $1.5T debt interest will be equal 3X Bitcoin market cap in 2023

The U.S. will pay over $1 trillion in debt interest next year, the equivalent of three or more Bitcoin market caps at current prices.

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The U.S. will pay over $1 trillion in debt interest next year, the equivalent of three or more Bitcoin market caps at current prices.

Commentators believe that Bitcoin (BTC) bulls do not need to wait long for the United States to start printing money again.

The latest analysis of U.S. macroeconomic data has led one market strategist to predict quantitative tightening (QT) ending to avoid a “catastrophic debt crisis.”

Analyst: Fed will have “no choice” with rate cuts

The U.S. Federal Reserve continues to remove liquidity from the financial system to fight inflation, reversing years of COVID-19-era money printing.

While interest rate hikes look set to continue declining in scope, some now believe that the Fed will soon have only one option — to halt the process altogether.

“Why the Fed will have no choice but to cut or risk a catastrophic debt crisis,” Sven Henrich, founder of NorthmanTrader, summarized on Jan. 27.

“Higher for longer is a fantasy not rooted in math reality.”

Henrich uploaded a chart showing interest payments on current U.S. government expenditure, now hurtling toward $1 trillion a year.

A dizzying number, the interest comes from U.S. government debt being over $31 trillion, with the Fed printing trillions of dollars since March 2020. Since then, interest payments have increased by 42%, Henrich noted.

The phenomenon has not gone unnoticed elsewhere in crypto circles. Popular Twitter account Wall Street Silver compared the interest payments as a portion of U.S. tax revenue.

“US paid $853 Billion in Interest for $31 Trillion Debt in 2022; More than Defense Budget in 2023. If the Fed keeps rates at these levels (or higher) we will be at $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in interest paid on the debt,” it wrote.

“The US govt collects about $4.9 trillion in taxes.”
Interest rates on U.S. government debt chart (screenshot). Source: Wall Street Silver/ Twitter

Such a scenario might be music to the ears of those with significant Bitcoin exposure. Periods of “easy” liquidity have corresponded with increased appetite for risk assets across the mainstream investment world.

The Fed’s unwinding of that policy accompanied Bitcoin’s 2022 bear market, and a “pivot” in interest rate hikes is thus seen by many as the first sign of the “good” times returning.

Crypto pain before pleasure?

Not everyone, however, agrees that the impact on risk assets, including crypto, will be all-out positive prior to that.

Related: Bitcoin ‘so bullish’ at $23K as analyst reveals new BTC price metrics

As Cointelegraph reported, ex-BitMEX CEO Arthur Hayes believes that chaos will come first, tanking Bitcoin and altcoins to new lows before any sort of long-term renaissance kicks in.

If the Fed faces a complete lack of options to avoid a meltdown, Hayes believes that the damage will have already been done before QT gives way to quantitative easing.

“This scenario is less ideal because it would mean that everyone who is buying risky assets now would be in store for massive drawdowns in performance. 2023 could be just as bad as 2022 until the Fed pivots,” he wrote in a blog post this month.

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the authors’ alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

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Stay Ahead of GDP: 3 Charts to Become a Smarter Trader

When concerns of a recession are front and center, investors tend to pay more attention to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) report. The Q4 2022 GDP report…

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When concerns of a recession are front and center, investors tend to pay more attention to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) report. The Q4 2022 GDP report showed the U.S. economy grew by 2.9% in the quarter, and Wall Street wasn't disappointed. The day the report was released, the market closed higher, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average ($DJIA) up 0.61%, the S&P 500 index ($SPX) up 1.1%, and the Nasdaq Composite ($COMPQ) up 1.76%. Consumer Discretionary, Technology, and Energy were the top-performing S&P sectors.

Add to the GDP report strong earnings from Tesla, Inc. (TSLA) and a mega announcement from Chevron Corp. (CVX)—raising dividends and a $75 billion buyback round—and you get a strong day in the stock markets.

Why is the GDP Report Important?

If a country's GDP is growing faster than expected, it could be a positive indication of economic strength. It means that consumer spending, business investment, and exports, among other factors, are going strong. But the GDP is just one indicator, and one indicator doesn't necessarily tell the whole story. It's a good idea to look at other indicators, such as the unemployment rate, inflation, and consumer sentiment, before making a conclusion.

Inflation appears to be cooling, but the labor market continues to be strong. The Fed has stated in many of its previous meetings that it'll be closely watching the labor market. So that'll be a sticky point as we get close to the next Fed meeting. Consumer spending is also strong, according to the GDP report. But that could have been because of increased auto sales and spending on services such as health care, personal care, and utilities. Retail sales released earlier in January indicated that holiday sales were lower.

There's a chance we could see retail sales slowing in Q1 2023 as some households run out of savings that were accumulated during the pandemic. This is something to keep an eye on going forward, as a slowdown in retail sales could mean increases in inventories. And this is something that could decrease economic activity.

Overall, the recent GDP report indicates the U.S. economy is strong, although some economists feel we'll probably see some downside in 2023, though not a recession. But the one drawback of the GDP report is that it's lagging. It comes out after the fact. Wouldn't it be great if you had known this ahead of time so you could position your trades to take advantage of the rally? While there's no way to know with 100% accuracy, there are ways to identify probable events.

3 Ways To Stay Ahead of the Curve

Instead of waiting for three months to get next quarter's GDP report, you can gauge the potential strength or weakness of the overall U.S. economy. Steven Sears, in his book The Indomitable Investor, suggested looking at these charts:

  • Copper prices
  • High-yield corporate bonds
  • Small-cap stocks

Copper: An Economic Indicator

You may not hear much about copper, but it's used in the manufacture of several goods and in construction. Given that manufacturing and construction make up a big chunk of economic activity, the red metal is more important than you may have thought. If you look at the chart of copper futures ($COPPER) you'll see that, in October 2022, the price of copper was trading sideways, but, in November, its price rose and trended quite a bit higher. This would have been an indication of a strengthening economy.

CHART 1: COPPER CONTINUOUS FUTURES CONTRACTS. Copper prices have been rising since November 2022. Chart source: StockCharts.com. For illustrative purposes only.

High-Yield Bonds: Risk On Indicator

The higher the risk, the higher the yield. That's the premise behind high-yield bonds. In short, companies that are leveraged, smaller, or just starting to grow may not have the solid balance sheets that more established companies are likely to have. If the economy slows down, investors are likely to sell the high-yield bonds and pick up the safer U.S. Treasury bonds.

Why the flight to safety? It's because when the economy is sluggish, the companies that issue the high-yield bonds tend to find it difficult to service their debts. When the economy is expanding, the opposite happens—they tend to perform better.

The chart below of the Dow Jones Corporate Bond Index ($DJCB) shows that, since the end of October 2022, the index trended higher. Similar to copper prices, high-yield corporate bond activity was also indicating economic expansion. You'll see similar action in charts of high-yield bond exchange-traded funds (ETFs) such as iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (HYG) and SPDR Barclays High Yield Bond ETF (JNK).

CHART 2: HIGH-YIELD BONDS TRENDING HIGHER. The Dow Jones Corporate Bond Index ($DJCB) has been trending higher since end of October 2022.Chart source: StockCharts.com. For illustrative purposes only.

Small-Cap Stocks: They're Sensitive

Pull up a chart of the iShares Russell 2000 ETF (IWM) and you'll see similar price action (see chart 3). Since mid-October, small-cap stocks (the Russell 2000 index is made up of 2000 small companies) have been moving higher.

CHART 3: SMALL-CAP STOCKS TRENDING HIGHER. When the economy is expanding, small-cap stocks trend higher.Chart source: StockCharts.com. For illustrative purposes only.

Three's Company

If all three of these indicators are showing strength, you can expect the GDP number to be strong. There are times when the GDP number may not impact the markets, but, when inflation is a problem and the Fed is trying to curb it by raising interest rates, the GDP number tends to impact the markets.

This scenario is likely to play out in 2023, so it would be worth your while to set up a GDP Tracker ChartList. Want a live link to the charts used in this article? They're all right here.


Jayanthi Gopalakrishnan

Director, Site Content

StockCharts.com

 

Disclaimer: This blog is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial advice. The ideas and strategies should never be used without first assessing your own personal and financial situation, or without consulting a financial professional.

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