A Gangbusters Employment Report

Popular Economics Weekly

Payrolls rose 261,000 in October following an 18,000 rise in September, easily weathering the season’s hurricane disruptions, the government said Friday. But 765,000 dropped out of the labor force, which is why the unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent.

The swing factor between the two months is restaurants where payrolls jumped 89,000 after plunging 98,000 during September’s storms, said Econoday. Professional business services underscore how urgent demand for labor is, rising 50,000 in October with the temporary help component up 18,000 for the strongest rise of the year.

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Graph: Econoday

Where are the new workers to come from with so many discouraged workers, if economic growth is to continue? Tax cuts won’t do it, when there aren’t enough workers willing to work. Wages have to rise faster to bring back those workers.

Wages fell a penny to an average of $26.53 an hour. The year-over-year increase in hourly pay slowed to 2.4 percent from 2.8 percent, though wage figures for the past two months were distorted by the storms. But most of the wage increase was in low-paying restaurant work, which means corporations still aren’t boosting wages enough to bring back discouraged workers.

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And those actively looking for work fell nearly 300,000 to 6.520 million for an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, the lowest in 17 years, reports Econoday. When also including those not actively looking but wanting a job, the number moves to only 11.750 million which is a 10-year low.

It will take more generous wages to bring back those workers now sitting on the sidelines. In other words, the return of discouraged workers may have run its course, unless corporations decide to pay more for their workers, rather than continuing to boost the pay of their executives (up more than 4 percent). The labor participation rate fell a steep 4 tenths to 62.7 percent, which is 4 percent below the longer term average, and really a reflection of the fact that wages still aren’t rising faster than inflation.

So why not boost wages, corporate executives? Tax cuts won’t do much to boost the wages of those in the 60 percent middle-income brackets—from $32,000 to $140,000 per year—since they already pay just an average 2.5 percent in income taxes.

Harlan Green © 2017

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

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A Gangbusters Employment Report

Popular Economics Weekly

Payrolls rose 261,000 in October following an 18,000 rise in September, easily weathering the season’s hurricane disruptions, the government said Friday. But 765,000 dropped out of the labor force, which is why the unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent.

The swing factor between the two months is restaurants where payrolls jumped 89,000 after plunging 98,000 during September’s storms, said Econoday. Professional business services underscore how urgent demand for labor is, rising 50,000 in October with the temporary help component up 18,000 for the strongest rise of the year.

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Graph: Econoday

So where are the new workers to come from with so many discouraged workers, if economic growth is to continue? Tax cuts won’t do it, when there aren’t enough workers willing to work. Wages have to rise faster to bring back those workers.

Wages fell a penny to an average of $26.53 an hour. The year-over-year increase in hourly pay slowed to 2.4 percent from 2.8 percent, though wage figures for the past two months were distorted by the storms. But most of the wage increase was in low-paying restaurant work, which means corporations still aren’t boosting wages enough to bring back discouraged workers.

image

And those actively looking for work fell nearly 300,000 to 6.520 million for an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, the lowest in 17 years, reports Econoday. When also including those not actively looking but wanting a job, the number moves to only 11.750 million which is a 10-year low.

So it will take more generous wages to bring back those workers now sitting on the sidelines. In other words, the return of discouraged workers may have run its course, unless corporations decide to pay more for their workers, rather than continuing to boost the pay of their executives (up more than 4 percent). The labor participation rate fell a steep 4 tenths to 62.7 percent, which is 4 percent below the longer term average, and really a reflection of the fact that wages still aren’t rising faster than inflation.

So why not boost wages, corporate executives? Tax cuts won’t do much to boost the wages of those in the 60 percent middle-income brackets—from $32,000 to $140,000 per year—since they already pay just an average 2.5 percent in income taxes.

Harlan Green © 2017

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

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Increasing Growth Ahead, But Watch for Bubbles!

Financial FAQs

Maybe it’s the natural disasters plaguing U.S. Or the fact businesses haven’t been investing in future growth until now. But the times they are a’changin, as GDP grew 3 percent in Q3 for the second quarter in a row. It’s mainly due to higher consumer spending and higher inventories as businesses see better times ahead. The higher capital investments have boosted manufacturing, and exports are also rising faster.

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Graph: Econoday

What to make of all this in the eighth year of this recovery, and full employment? More automation, for one thing, as businesses have to depend more on robotics and other aids to productivity with the dearth of new workers entering the labor market. Jobs and income are the keys to October’s report, says Econoday.

“ The assessment of October’s jobs market is unusually favorable with only 17.5 percent of the sample saying jobs are hard to get, which is very low and down 1/2 percentage point from September.”

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Graph: Econoday

Consumer confidence is also soaring, with the Conference Board’s index jumping 5.3 points in the headline index to 125.9 which is a 17-year high. Of course that was just before the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, so is it a sign of irrational exuberance?

Nobel economist Robert Shiller—first to coin the term “irrational exuberance”—has lately been warning of a stock bubble.

“…the US stock market today looks a lot like it did at the peaks before most of the country’s 13 previous bear markets,” says Shiller. “This is not to say that a bear market is guaranteed: such episodes are difficult to anticipate, and the next one may still be a long way off. And even if a bear market does arrive, for anyone who does not buy at the market’s peak and sell at the trough, losses tend to be less than 20 percent.“

The Fed is also expected to raise short term rates another one-quarter percent in their December FOMC meeting, and it looks like President Trump is about to appoint another Fed Governor, Jerome Powell, as the next Fed Chairman to take over February 1, when Janet Yellen’s term is over.

The ‘take’ on Powell is that he is well-qualified and likes fewer regulations, which Trump will like. He also wants to reduce outstanding Federal Reserve holdings of securities more substantially, and according to former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke did not like so much Quantitative Easing that kept interest rates so low for so long. That puts him in the budget deficit hawk camp.

But what really can be done about reducing the budget deficit with the current one-party tax reform debate? Republicans are attempting once again to get around the Democrats and a bipartisan tax bill, as they did with the attempted repeal of Obamacare.

That didn’t work, so why do they believe it will work this time, especially when some cherished tax breaks would have to be eliminated to cover the approximately $1.5 trillion in tax breaks; that might include reducing 401(k) retirement savings’ accounts and eliminating $1.5 trillion in Medicaid and Medicare spending over the next decade?

Stay tuned, but the U.S. can’t function with a one-party system.

Harlan Green © 2017

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

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Who Needs a Tax Cut?

Popular Economics Weekly

It turns out very few of us need a tax cut. Marketwatch economist Rex Nutting calculates that those in the 60 percent middle-income brackets—from $32,000 to $140,000 per year—pay just an average 2.5 percent in income taxes. It’s only the richest 0.1 to 1 percent income earners that pay more, and want the huge tax cuts congress and the Trump administration are proposing.

 

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Graph: Marketwatch

Their rationale? That it will boost GDP growth to 3 percent from the current 2 percent average since the end of the Great Recession. But guess what? Q2 GDP growth was already 3 percent in Q2 and just revised to 3.1 percent, the highest growth rate in 2 years. Q3 GDP growth was just reported today at 3 percent, due to higher consumer spending and Durable Goods orders on hurricane goods replacement.  Businesses are already investing in expansion, in other words—business investment in structures rose a stronger 7 percent instead of 6.2 percent in the revision. So, why not pay down the huge budget deficits accumulated since then, instead of cutting tax revenues?

“A bill that cuts federal income taxes for middle-class families makes absolutely no sense, except as a sad way of camouflaging the real intent of the bill: Giving millions of dollars to the very wealthy, who happen to be the only people who are really benefiting from our uneven economic growth,” said Nutting.

Because the budget deficit cannot be increased more then $1.5 trillion in ten years, due to prior budget agreements spending has to be cut somewhere, and guess where. Nobel economist Paul Krugman calculated $1trillion has to be cut from Medicare, and $500 billion from Medicaid.

Guess who is hurt most by those benefit cuts? Trump voters in the red states that depend most heavily on those health benefits. So, once again Repubs are attempting to disguise a tax cut for the wealthiest. A corporate tax cut also benefit the wealthiest, since the top 10 percent of income earners own 80 percent of stocks, which is where most of the benefits from their increased profits will show up.

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Graph: Econoday

Top this off with another record for corporate profits, up 7.4 percent in a year, and there is no reason to be cutting their taxes. They haven’t been using their profits for productive purposes, so what’s needed is for them to pay higher taxes so government can use that money to invest productively in the $2 trillion plus in outmoded infrastructure that badly needs replacement.

As a bonus, any such investments in new airports, power grids, better water treatment facilities (such as Detroit’s), alternative energies, roads, bridges—you name it—will increase labor productivity that has been cut in half since 2000.

And increasing labor productivity is the only real ticket to higher economic growth, and increasing the take-home pay for those middle-income wage earners.

Harlan Green © 2017

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

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Boom Times for Manufacturing

Popular Economics Weekly

A measure used by economists to track investment, known as core capital orders (minus defense and aircraft), rose 4 percent in the 12 months ended in September. It has risen 1.3 percent for three consecutive months, according to the Commerce Department.

Core orders are spent domestically for the most part, so this is happening just when it’s needed—to rebuild the hurricane and wildfire damaged states of Florida, Texas, California, as well as U.S. Territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

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Graph: FRED

It will also boost economic growth, since it boosts labor productivity, one of the two components that determine GDP growth. The other component is population growth, but the U.S. population is barely growing, as is immigration that supplies the majority of new workers.

The main beneficiary of higher capex spending will be manufacturing, which is already showing improvement with a cheaper dollar exchange rate that has boosted exports.

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And today we have durable-goods orders that rose 2.2 percent in September, beating forecasts. Durable goods are all goods that last three or more years—including auto vehicles, defense and aircraft. These orders have climbed 7.8 percent in the past year, the fastest pace since early 2012.

“Strength in the manufacturing sample is centered in new orders and employment,” says Econoday. “Of special note are unusual delivery delays, which help lift the composite indexes and are the result of lingering disruptions and stretched workloads following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.”

So we are seeing effects of the hurricanes in boosting economic activity. The role of capital expenditures is especially important, as it means the replacement of much of our aging infrastructure as well.

And don’t forget at least 1 million motor vehicles were destroyed by the hurricanes that will need to be replaced. But buyers shopping for used replacement vehicles should be aware of the pitfalls of those storm-damaged cars that are put back on the market.

Consumers should take precautions like getting a history of repairs and checking the VIN number in the National Insurance Crime Bureau and National Motor Vehicle Title Information System databases, reports Fortune Magazine. Even without a database, strange stains and smells can be a red flag that a car has weathered a flood. Consumers buy a used car should check for signs of water damage — mineral deposits, mildew and the smell of mold or overpowering scents of cleaning supplies that may be trying to mask it.

Harlan Green © 2017

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

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Rising Existing-Home Sales Not Enough

The Mortgage Corner

WASHINGTON (October 20, 2017) — After three straight monthly declines, existing-home sales slightly reversed course in September, but ongoing supply shortages and recent hurricanes muted overall activity and caused sales to fall back on an annual basis, reports the National Association of Realtors.

There aren’t enough homes for sale, in other words, at a time when many more homes are needed.  The inventory for sale is down to 4.2 months’ supply at the current sales rate. How will all the homes lost in the hurricanes and California wild fires be replaced with such low inventories?

It will take massive help from governments and disaster relief agencies, for starters. The U.S. House has voted $51.8 billion in relief aid to date that the Senate will also have to approve; much of it for replacement housing. But that means mobile homes providing immediate shelter from the approaching winter, as happened in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina.

It will take much longer to replace those homes destroyed. The ongoing California wildfires have destroyed more than 6,000 homes in Northern California, which is more than half the average total of new homes built in California during ordinary years. And 185,149 homes are estimated to be damaged or destroyed just by Harvey, according to recent data from the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

This will certainly boost the construction industry. But construction also is suffering from a shortage of workers. And affordability is now a problem slowing sales, as housing prices have risen faster than incomes due to the current housing shortage.

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Graph: Econoday

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, rose 0.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.39 million in September from 5.35 million in August. Last month’s sales pace is 1.5 percent below a year ago and is the second slowest over the past year (behind August).

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says closings mustered a meager gain in September, but declined on an annual basis for the first time in over a year (July 2016; 2.2 percent). “Home sales in recent months remain at their lowest level of the year and are unable to break through, despite considerable buyer interest in most parts of the country,” he said. “Realtors® this fall continue to say the primary impediments stifling sales growth are the same as they have been all year: not enough listings – especially at the lower end of the market – and fast-rising prices that are straining the budgets of prospective buyers.”

Bottom line is that the U.S. and state economies will be given a massive boost by the recent disasters. We can really call it a new, New Deal, since governments will have to approve massive spending bills to rebuild as if it were wartime. Much of that spending has to be for modernizing our infrastructure—which includes all the roads, bridges, water systems, and electrical grids destroyed.

And don’t forget the replacement housing needed. We see such spending can and will prolong this recovery another one or two years. Since such massive spending will require bipartisan support, maybe politics can be thrown out the window this time.

Harlan Green © 2017

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

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Republicans Killing the Housing Market

The Mortgage Corner

The Trump administration and Republicans’ anti-immigration policies will kill the housing market. Why? Trump wants to cut immigration quotas by 50 percent when there aren’t enough qualified workers to fill current job openings. And congress can’t agree on anything that gives easier access to citizenship for the foreign-born.

The housing market can’t provide enough housing even for current population growth. Both new and existing-home sales have declined this year because of the labor shortage. Builders and real-estate agents have complained for years about more red tape, tighter lending standards and a scarcity of inexpensive lots to build on.

And builders are now facing an extreme labor shortage. They can’t find enough carpenters, bricklayers and other workers with the needed skills. “Labor and material shortages are holding construction back, and will continue to do so for some time yet,” says Marketwatch, citing economists at Capital Economics.

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Graph: FRED

The number of existing-homes listed for sale in 2017 to date is the lowest since 1999, according to the NAR. That’s in part because distressed sales volumes have fallen from more than 100,000 a month at the peak of the post crisis period, 2009-2012, to about 25,000 today, which means there aren’t many cheaply-priced homes left over from the housing crash. 

I said last week the Labor Department reported there were 6.1 million job openings in August in its JOLTS report, or Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, which was “little changed” from July, while hirings remained far behind at 5.430 million. The very large gap has been little changed for more than a few months. At 652,000, the current spread between openings and hirings is one of the very widest on record, and two months ago it was even higher—the spread was 1 million.

Why? There aren’t enough workers to fill current job openings; as I said—and the Trump administration wants to restrict the supply even further in its single-minded pursuit of minority white-nationalist voters?

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Economists know that to advance economic growth to say, 3 percent for any length of time, 2.8 million new workers are needed each year, when our domestic population is capable of just 600,000 new adult workers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So where are the additional workers to come from if Trump and the Republican congress continue to block a more enlightened immigration policy?

Housing affordability will suffer the most, when household incomes are rising at half the rate of both housing prices and rental rates. It’s a sad fact that the average production and non-supervisory worker earned $37,600 annually in 2016. “When adjusted for inflation, the average wage has remained stagnant for 50 years,” said Executive Pay Watch, in a report conducted by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

So we are at a crossroads, if we want to provide the necessary housing for our growing population. A more enlightened immigration policy is the first step. And then Republicans should drop their obsession with unnecessary tax cuts and instead focus on that $1 trillion infrastructure bill they’ve talked so much about.  It’s even more necessary because of the horrific hurricanes.

Harlan Green © 2017

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

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