Thursday, March 05, 2015

Friday: Jobs, Trade Deficit

by Bill McBride on 3/05/2015 06:51:00 PM

Congratulations to my friend, housing economist Tom Lawler, for winning another "Crystal Ball" award (Tom's home price forecasts were the most accurate of their more than 100 expert panelists.). This is Tom's third "Crystal Ball"!

• At 8:30 AM ET, the Employment Report for February. The consensus is for an increase of 230,000 non-farm payroll jobs added in February, down from the 257,000 non-farm payroll jobs added in January. The consensus is for the unemployment rate to decline to 5.6% in February from 5.7% in January.

• Also at 8:30 AM, the Trade Balance report for January from the Census Bureau. The consensus is for the U.S. trade deficit to be at $41.8 billion in January from $46.6 billion in December.

• At 3:00 PM, Consumer Credit for January from the Federal Reserve. The consensus is for credit to increase $15.0 billion.

Hints of real Wage Increases

by Bill McBride on 3/05/2015 03:04:00 PM

A few thoughts ... it seems this might be the year that we see an increase in real wages. Here are a few signs:

1) The official data suggests we are getting closer to full employment. The unemployment rate (U-3) has fallen to 5.7%, and "quits" are up significantly (voluntary separations).  The number of people working part time for economic reasons is still high, but declining (these workers are included in the alternate measure of underemployment, U-6, that has fallen to 11.3% from a high of 17.1%).

2) Several companies have announced increases for their lowest paid employees, including Wal-Mart (to $9 per hour in April, and $10 per hour next year) and T.J. Maxx.

3) More labor issues. There was the West Coast port slowdown (now resolved, with a huge backup of ships waiting to unload), and the ongoing refinery strikes. From the WSJ: U.S. Refiners, Striking Workers Digging In for Protracted Battle

U.S. refiners and striking union workers are digging in for a protracted battle that could last through the spring.
Weeks of negotiations the union and refinery owners fell apart in early February. Since then, 6,500 USW workers have walked out of more than a dozen plants. ...

The last nationwide refinery strike was in 1980 and lasted for three months. This year, energy companies have signaled that they are willing for the work stoppage to drag on even longer. The two sides are trying to hammer out a new three-year contract that would be used as a pattern for union employment, wage increases and benefits at refineries and petrochemical plants around the U.S.
Click on graph for larger image.

Union membership has declined significantly over the last 35 years (less power for labor), but these slowdowns and strikes still suggest some negotiating power for labor (we didn't see many strikes in 2008 when the economy was collapsing).

Last year I wrote that the economic word of the year for 2015 might be "wages", "Just being hopeful", I wrote, "maybe 2015 will be the year that real wages start to increase". All of the above suggests some increase in real wages this year.

Goldman February Payrolls Preview

by Bill McBride on 3/05/2015 12:10:00 PM

Yesterday I posted a employment preview for February. Here are some excerpts from Goldman Sachs economist David Mericle:

We expect nonfarm payroll job growth of 220k in February, below the consensus forecast of 235k. Labor market indicators were mixed in February, and we expect that the effect of four major snowstorms in the month leading into the February survey week will also weigh on payroll growth. We expect a one-tenth decline in the unemployment rate to 5.6%, reversing the increase seen last month. On average hourly earnings, our baseline expectation is for a 0.2% increase, but we see some upside risk from possible statistical distortions related to the severe snowstorms.
emphasis added

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increased to 320,000

by Bill McBride on 3/05/2015 08:34:00 AM

The DOL reported:

In the week ending February 28, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 320,000, an increase of 7,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 313,000. The 4-week moving average was 304,750, an increase of 10,250 from the previous week's unrevised average of 294,500.

There were no special factors impacting this week's initial claims.
The previous week was unrevised.

The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since January 2000.

Click on graph for larger image.

The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims increased to 304,750.

This was above the consensus forecast of 300,000, however the low level of the 4-week average suggests few layoffs.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Thursday: Unemployment Claims, Stress Test Results

by Bill McBride on 3/04/2015 07:01:00 PM

From Greg Ip at the WSJ: Janet Yellen, Forecasting Ace

Her forecasts as a Fed official have been strikingly accurate, as the release of 2009 transcripts to the Fed’s deliberations make clear. If she worked on Wall Street, she’d be a “hot hand.” This does not mean as chairwoman she is necessarily right; but it does suggest her forecasts deserve the benefit of the doubt.
A Wall Street Journal study of her public comments concluded that she consistently hit the mark more often from 2009 to 2012 than other members of the Federal Open Market Committee.

Transcripts of FOMC meetings in 2009, released Wednesday, reinforce this point. Ms Yellen is repeatedly more gloomy about the outlook, less worried about inflation, and more in favor of forceful monetary stimulus than her colleagues.

Her foresight on inflation is especially noteworthy. Discussing its outlook in January, 2009, she said: “We could see a prolonged period in which inflation falls well below the level consistent with our dual goals of price stability and maximum sustainable employment.” That, of course, is what has happened: inflation has consistently run below the Fed’s 2% target.
Yellen has no crystal ball - she just paid close attention to the data and drew the correct conclusions.  This is one reason I argued for Yellen as Fed Chair.

• At 8:30 AM ET, the initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released. The consensus is for claims to decrease to 300 thousand from 313 thousand.

• At 10:00 AM, Manufacturers' Shipments, Inventories and Orders (Factory Orders) for January. The consensus is for no change in January orders.

• At 4:30 PM, Dodd-Frank Act Stress Test Results

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