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Mild Recession? Three Indicators That Can Offer Insights

It’s all about inflation and earnings. Will the Fed continue to raise interest rates after two key gauges of prices came in lower than estimates? After…



It's all about inflation and earnings. Will the Fed continue to raise interest rates after two key gauges of prices came in lower than estimates? After the recent regional bank fallout, will bank earnings be strong enough to lift the Financial sector out of its doldrums?

The government's March consumer price index (CPI) came in lower than estimated—headline CPI rose 0.1% in March, which was less than the 0.2% Dow Jones estimate. And if you look at year-over-year numbers, it was up 5% vs. the 5.1% estimated. Core CPI (ex-food and energy) rose 0.4% and 5.6% annually. Both numbers were in line with expectations.

The March producer price index, aka PPI, dropped by 0.5% compared to the previous month. Remember, PPI tells us how much manufacturers are paying for their materials on their end. If costs increase, it's generally transferred to the end products, meaning higher consumer prices.

Overall, economists thought the PPI would stay the same as last month, so the decline seems promising. Taking out food and energy, core wholesale prices decreased by 0.1% from last month. That's way better than the 0.2% increase economists were predicting.

Year over year, the PPI is up 2.7%, whereas last month's reading was 4.6%. Minus food and energy prices, core PPI is up 3.4% as compared to last month, where core PPI was up 4.4%.

Signs of Softening Labor Market 

Jobless claims came in at 239,000, when 235,000 had been expected. This may give the stock market a boost. This latest figure shows that jobless claims are at their highest level in over a year. It's still pretty low overall, though. As you know, the Fed has been trying to cool down the economy and the job market to fight inflation, but the jobs market hasn't been hugely affected yet.

Unemployment benefit applications reflect the broader trend of layoffs. And as far as the current round goes, many of the big Tech companies that aggressively hired during the pandemic continue to shed headcount. Amazon (AMZN), Facebook (META), IBM (IBM), Microsoft (MSFT), Salesforce (CRM), and DoorDash (DASH) have all initiated job cuts, some as early as last November.

Still, there's more softening to come. US employers added 236,000 jobs in March. This suggests the economy is still relatively growing, despite the nine rate hikes the Fed implemented over the past year to ease inflation.

The unemployment rate is currently at 3.5%, but the Fed predicts it may rise to 4.5% by the end of the year. Note that this kind of increase is sizable, and, if you look at it historically, it tends to be associated with recessions. Additionally, the Labor Department reported that US job openings sunk in February down to 9.9 million. That's the lowest since May 2021.

What's the Economic Data Indicating? 

When you combine PPI with the March CPI report released on Wednesday, it seems inflation is easing up a bit. Still, you have to keep in mind that there's a chance of a recession looming around. So, overall, this economic data is something of a mixed bag, really.

Inflation is showing signs of cooling, but it's still high. Pricing pressures are easing in some areas, such as energy, used cars, and food at home. But other areas, such as shelter and eating out at restaurants, are rising. One of the biggest jumps was shelter costs, which rose 8.2% year-over-year.

The easing of "input costs" (via PPI) gives more evidence that consumer prices may be on the decline. Fluctuations in production costs often find their way to the store shelves.

Overall, the cooling inflation was welcome news for the market. The initial reaction after the CPI number was positive. Equity futures, gold prices, and crude oil jumped on the news. Treasury yields and the US dollar fell. The reaction after the PPI release was more tepid for equity futures, but gold futures rose, Treasury yields fell, and the US dollar weakened.

Looking Under the Hood 

Headline inflation grew at a slower pace, but core inflation accelerated. This could be a concern for the future. The CME FedWatch tool shows a higher probability of a 25 basis point rate hike, rather than a pause in the next Fed meeting. But that could change. More data will be released, which could influence interest rate decisions.

Richmond Fed President Thomas Barkin commented that we're past peak inflation, but there's still a long way to go before reaching the 2% target. There needs to be more price weakening, which means the Fed has more work to do.

Overall, there's still a lot of uncertainty among investors. After the collapse of a couple of regional banks, the health of the US economy is nebulous. If you pull up a chart of the SPDR S&P Regional Banking ETF (KRE) you'll see that regional banks are still trending lower. Add to this the minutes from the Fed's March policy meeting pointing to the possibility of a mild recession, and you have a pretty grim picture.

Given these sticky points, it shouldn't be surprising that the market closed lower on Wednesday. The PPI number fueled more optimism in the market. The S&P 500 index ($SPX) must break above its February high (see chart below), a key level to watch. A break above it could mean more upside. But with uncertainty in the air, it may be a while before we see a relief rally in equities.

CHART 1: S&P 500 INDEX SHOWS HESITATION. A break above the February high would be more confirming of a relief rally. A lot rests on earnings from the big banks and the Fed's interest rate decision.Chart source: For illustrative purposes only.

Earnings-Palooza Begins

Corporate earnings have declined, on average, in the last three quarters. The trend will likely continue in the next earnings season, which kicks off on Friday. On deck are big banks J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC), and Citigroup (C). Besides earnings and revenue numbers, guidance from the banks will be crucial.

Banks set the stage for earnings season. Their results provide insight into the state of the economy. If earnings align with or are better than expectations, it could be bullish for the Financial sector and the overall stock market.

The daily chart of the KBW Bank Index ($BKX) is one to keep on your radar. It's still got a long way to go before anyone can confidently say the trend has reversed to the upside, but it will be interesting to see the price action in $BKX after the big banks report their earnings numbers.

CHART 2: WHAT WILL LIFT THE KBW BANK INDEX? Earnings from the big banks could influence price action in $BKX. Keep an eye on this chart as banks start reporting on Friday.Chart source: For illustrative purposes only.

The Final Word 

Investors can blame inflation and the recent banking fiasco for the lack of directional movement in the market. There's a chance that cooling inflation may already be priced in. So, what will fire the market? Maybe earnings. The next three weeks could reveal signs of whether or not a mild recession is on the horizon.

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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February Employment Situation

By Paul Gomme and Peter Rupert The establishment data from the BLS showed a 275,000 increase in payroll employment for February, outpacing the 230,000…



By Paul Gomme and Peter Rupert

The establishment data from the BLS showed a 275,000 increase in payroll employment for February, outpacing the 230,000 average over the previous 12 months. The payroll data for January and December were revised down by a total of 167,000. The private sector added 223,000 new jobs, the largest gain since May of last year.

Temporary help services employment continues a steep decline after a sharp post-pandemic rise.

Average hours of work increased from 34.2 to 34.3. The increase, along with the 223,000 private employment increase led to a hefty increase in total hours of 5.6% at an annualized rate, also the largest increase since May of last year.

The establishment report, once again, beat “expectations;” the WSJ survey of economists was 198,000. Other than the downward revisions, mentioned above, another bit of negative news was a smallish increase in wage growth, from $34.52 to $34.57.

The household survey shows that the labor force increased 150,000, a drop in employment of 184,000 and an increase in the number of unemployed persons of 334,000. The labor force participation rate held steady at 62.5, the employment to population ratio decreased from 60.2 to 60.1 and the unemployment rate increased from 3.66 to 3.86. Remember that the unemployment rate is the number of unemployed relative to the labor force (the number employed plus the number unemployed). Consequently, the unemployment rate can go up if the number of unemployed rises holding fixed the labor force, or if the labor force shrinks holding the number unemployed unchanged. An increase in the unemployment rate is not necessarily a bad thing: it may reflect a strong labor market drawing “marginally attached” individuals from outside the labor force. Indeed, there was a 96,000 decline in those workers.

Earlier in the week, the BLS announced JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) data for January. There isn’t much to report here as the job openings changed little at 8.9 million, the number of hires and total separations were little changed at 5.7 million and 5.3 million, respectively.

As has been the case for the last couple of years, the number of job openings remains higher than the number of unemployed persons.

Also earlier in the week the BLS announced that productivity increased 3.2% in the 4th quarter with output rising 3.5% and hours of work rising 0.3%.

The bottom line is that the labor market continues its surprisingly (to some) strong performance, once again proving stronger than many had expected. This strength makes it difficult to justify any interest rate cuts soon, particularly given the recent inflation spike.

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Mortgage rates fall as labor market normalizes

Jobless claims show an expanding economy. We will only be in a recession once jobless claims exceed 323,000 on a four-week moving average.



Everyone was waiting to see if this week’s jobs report would send mortgage rates higher, which is what happened last month. Instead, the 10-year yield had a muted response after the headline number beat estimates, but we have negative job revisions from previous months. The Federal Reserve’s fear of wage growth spiraling out of control hasn’t materialized for over two years now and the unemployment rate ticked up to 3.9%. For now, we can say the labor market isn’t tight anymore, but it’s also not breaking.

The key labor data line in this expansion is the weekly jobless claims report. Jobless claims show an expanding economy that has not lost jobs yet. We will only be in a recession once jobless claims exceed 323,000 on a four-week moving average.

From the Fed: In the week ended March 2, initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits were flat, at 217,000. The four-week moving average declined slightly by 750, to 212,250

Below is an explanation of how we got here with the labor market, which all started during COVID-19.

1. I wrote the COVID-19 recovery model on April 7, 2020, and retired it on Dec. 9, 2020. By that time, the upfront recovery phase was done, and I needed to model out when we would get the jobs lost back.

2. Early in the labor market recovery, when we saw weaker job reports, I doubled and tripled down on my assertion that job openings would get to 10 million in this recovery. Job openings rose as high as to 12 million and are currently over 9 million. Even with the massive miss on a job report in May 2021, I didn’t waver.

Currently, the jobs openings, quit percentage and hires data are below pre-COVID-19 levels, which means the labor market isn’t as tight as it once was, and this is why the employment cost index has been slowing data to move along the quits percentage.  


3. I wrote that we should get back all the jobs lost to COVID-19 by September of 2022. At the time this would be a speedy labor market recovery, and it happened on schedule, too

Total employment data

4. This is the key one for right now: If COVID-19 hadn’t happened, we would have between 157 million and 159 million jobs today, which would have been in line with the job growth rate in February 2020. Today, we are at 157,808,000. This is important because job growth should be cooling down now. We are more in line with where the labor market should be when averaging 140K-165K monthly. So for now, the fact that we aren’t trending between 140K-165K means we still have a bit more recovery kick left before we get down to those levels. 

From BLS: Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 275,000 in February, and the unemployment rate increased to 3.9 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job gains occurred in health care, in government, in food services and drinking places, in social assistance, and in transportation and warehousing.

Here are the jobs that were created and lost in the previous month:


In this jobs report, the unemployment rate for education levels looks like this:

  • Less than a high school diploma: 6.1%
  • High school graduate and no college: 4.2%
  • Some college or associate degree: 3.1%
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher: 2.2%

Today’s report has continued the trend of the labor data beating my expectations, only because I am looking for the jobs data to slow down to a level of 140K-165K, which hasn’t happened yet. I wouldn’t categorize the labor market as being tight anymore because of the quits ratio and the hires data in the job openings report. This also shows itself in the employment cost index as well. These are key data lines for the Fed and the reason we are going to see three rate cuts this year.

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Inside The Most Ridiculous Jobs Report In History: Record 1.2 Million Immigrant Jobs Added In One Month

Inside The Most Ridiculous Jobs Report In History: Record 1.2 Million Immigrant Jobs Added In One Month

Last month we though that the January…



Inside The Most Ridiculous Jobs Report In History: Record 1.2 Million Immigrant Jobs Added In One Month

Last month we though that the January jobs report was the "most ridiculous in recent history" but, boy, were we wrong because this morning the Biden department of goalseeked propaganda (aka BLS) published the February jobs report, and holy crap was that something else. Even Goebbels would blush. 

What happened? Let's take a closer look.

On the surface, it was (almost) another blockbuster jobs report, certainly one which nobody expected, or rather just one bank out of 76 expected. Starting at the top, the BLS reported that in February the US unexpectedly added 275K jobs, with just one research analyst (from Dai-Ichi Research) expecting a higher number.

Some context: after last month's record 4-sigma beat, today's print was "only" 3 sigma higher than estimates. Needless to say, two multiple sigma beats in a row used to only happen in the USSR... and now in the US, apparently.

Before we go any further, a quick note on what last month we said was "the most ridiculous jobs report in recent history": it appears the BLS read our comments and decided to stop beclowing itself. It did that by slashing last month's ridiculous print by over a third, and revising what was originally reported as a massive 353K beat to just 229K,  a 124K revision, which was the biggest one-month negative revision in two years!

Of course, that does not mean that this month's jobs print won't be revised lower: it will be, and not just that month but every other month until the November election because that's the only tool left in the Biden admin's box: pretend the economic and jobs are strong, then revise them sharply lower the next month, something we pointed out first last summer and which has not failed to disappoint once.

To be fair, not every aspect of the jobs report was stellar (after all, the BLS had to give it some vague credibility). Take the unemployment rate, after flatlining between 3.4% and 3.8% for two years - and thus denying expectations from Sahm's Rule that a recession may have already started - in February the unemployment rate unexpectedly jumped to 3.9%, the highest since February 2022 (with Black unemployment spiking by 0.3% to 5.6%, an indicator which the Biden admin will quickly slam as widespread economic racism or something).

And then there were average hourly earnings, which after surging 0.6% MoM in January (since revised to 0.5%) and spooking markets that wage growth is so hot, the Fed will have no choice but to delay cuts, in February the number tumbled to just 0.1%, the lowest in two years...

... for one simple reason: last month's average wage surge had nothing to do with actual wages, and everything to do with the BLS estimate of hours worked (which is the denominator in the average wage calculation) which last month tumbled to just 34.1 (we were led to believe) the lowest since the covid pandemic...

... but has since been revised higher while the February print rose even more, to 34.3, hence why the latest average wage data was once again a product not of wages going up, but of how long Americans worked in any weekly period, in this case higher from 34.1 to 34.3, an increase which has a major impact on the average calculation.

While the above data points were examples of some latent weakness in the latest report, perhaps meant to give it a sheen of veracity, it was everything else in the report that was a problem starting with the BLS's latest choice of seasonal adjustments (after last month's wholesale revision), which have gone from merely laughable to full clownshow, as the following comparison between the monthly change in BLS and ADP payrolls shows. The trend is clear: the Biden admin numbers are now clearly rising even as the impartial ADP (which directly logs employment numbers at the company level and is far more accurate), shows an accelerating slowdown.

But it's more than just the Biden admin hanging its "success" on seasonal adjustments: when one digs deeper inside the jobs report, all sorts of ugly things emerge... such as the growing unprecedented divergence between the Establishment (payrolls) survey and much more accurate Household (actual employment) survey. To wit, while in January the BLS claims 275K payrolls were added, the Household survey found that the number of actually employed workers dropped for the third straight month (and 4 in the past 5), this time by 184K (from 161.152K to 160.968K).

This means that while the Payrolls series hits new all time highs every month since December 2020 (when according to the BLS the US had its last month of payrolls losses), the level of Employment has not budged in the past year. Worse, as shown in the chart below, such a gaping divergence has opened between the two series in the past 4 years, that the number of Employed workers would need to soar by 9 million (!) to catch up to what Payrolls claims is the employment situation.

There's more: shifting from a quantitative to a qualitative assessment, reveals just how ugly the composition of "new jobs" has been. Consider this: the BLS reports that in February 2024, the US had 132.9 million full-time jobs and 27.9 million part-time jobs. Well, that's great... until you look back one year and find that in February 2023 the US had 133.2 million full-time jobs, or more than it does one year later! And yes, all the job growth since then has been in part-time jobs, which have increased by 921K since February 2023 (from 27.020 million to 27.941 million).

Here is a summary of the labor composition in the past year: all the new jobs have been part-time jobs!

But wait there's even more, because now that the primary season is over and we enter the heart of election season and political talking points will be thrown around left and right, especially in the context of the immigration crisis created intentionally by the Biden administration which is hoping to import millions of new Democratic voters (maybe the US can hold the presidential election in Honduras or Guatemala, after all it is their citizens that will be illegally casting the key votes in November), what we find is that in February, the number of native-born workers tumbled again, sliding by a massive 560K to just 129.807 million. Add to this the December data, and we get a near-record 2.4 million plunge in native-born workers in just the past 3 months (only the covid crash was worse)!

The offset? A record 1.2 million foreign-born (read immigrants, both legal and illegal but mostly illegal) workers added in February!

Said otherwise, not only has all job creation in the past 6 years has been exclusively for foreign-born workers...

Source: St Louis Fed FRED Native Born and Foreign Born

... but there has been zero job-creation for native born workers since June 2018!

This is a huge issue - especially at a time of an illegal alien flood at the southwest border...

... and is about to become a huge political scandal, because once the inevitable recession finally hits, there will be millions of furious unemployed Americans demanding a more accurate explanation for what happened - i.e., the illegal immigration floodgates that were opened by the Biden admin.

Which is also why Biden's handlers will do everything in their power to insure there is no official recession before November... and why after the election is over, all economic hell will finally break loose. Until then, however, expect the jobs numbers to get even more ridiculous.

Tyler Durden Fri, 03/08/2024 - 13:30

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