Rosenberg: “the mother of all jobless recoveries”


While I see the job numbers as pretty much what was expected, the data do make clear that we are seeing a major jobless recovery. David Rosenberg has a piece out today that goes right to the heart of the issue:

All we can say is that if the overwhelming consensus is correct that the recession is behind us, then what we have on our hands is the mother of all jobless recoveries and whatever economic growth is being squeezed into the system comes courtesy of the most dramatic intervention by the government in recorded history, including the New Deal 1930s era. President Obama is now running fiscal deficits that would have made FDR blush.

But while Uncle Sam can try and stimulate spending on autos and housing and even mortgage credit via the myriad of policy measures that have been undertaken, the return to job creation is as elusive as ever. It is hard to fathom that, according to the White House estimates earlier this year, the stimulus was supposed to help cap the unemployment rate at 8.5%. Here we are today with both an unemployment rate and a fiscal deficit-to-GDP ratio both north of 10%. While real GDP did manage to rebound at a 3.5% annual rate in Q3 — stagnant if not for the government incursion — those dual 10%-plus figures cited in the previous sentence highlight the fact that GDP is not the only barometer of a nation’s economic health.

While the government can try to induce people to spend, no recovery can be sustained without a resumption in job growth and October’s employment data contained some troubling signposts.

While the -190,000 headline nonfarm payroll print was not that far off the consensus, and while there were upward revisions to the prior two months (of over 90,000), the major problem is that the Establishment Survey, at this time, is missing a very important part of the story, which is the strain that the small business sector continues to face. Small businesses have less cash on the balance sheet, less access to credit and less exposure to overseas growth dynamics compared to large companies. The Establishment Survey (nonfarm payrolls), has a “large company” bias that the companion Household Survey does not have. If you look at the historical record, you will find that at true turning points in the economic cycle, the Household Survey leads the Establishment Survey. This has always been the case heading into expansions and into recessions.

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My interpretation of this is threefold:

  • The headline data understate the severity of the problem because of “large company” bias and a low labor force participation rate. In reality the U-6 number of 17.5% is more reflective of the state of the economy – and that is a depressionary number.
  • To the degree you expect the recovery to continue, labor force participation rates should be increasing, not decreasing. In my previous post, I failed to point this out, leading to the conclusion I saw the data as a net positive. I see the data as a net wash – as it was in line with expectations. However, when discouraged workers come back into the labor force, we are going to see a much higher headline unemployment rate.
  • Given the fact that unemployment is pointing to depression but we are in a recovery, you should conclude that this recovery will fade once government stimulus is removed.
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Lunch with Dave — U.S. Payrolls: 10-Plus (PDF, registration free but required) – David Rosenberg, Gluskin Sheff

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