Friday, June 5, 2009

Payroll Data In Perspective

Compliments of a much happier and much less Merrill "Is that the most bullish piece you can come up with" Lynch-supervised David Rosenberg.
We have to put the data into perspective. Before the Lehman collapse, when equities were in a moderate bear market and bonds in a moderate bull market, the worst nonfarm payroll result we saw was -175,000. We don’t seem to recall too many pundits rejoicing over employment declines at that time, which were basically half of what was just posted in May. Moreover, the worst nonfarm payroll number in the 2001 recession — right after 9-11 — was -325,000; and before that, at the depths of the 1990-91 recession, the worst report showed a -306,000 print. So basically, what we saw today was a number consistent with a deep recession — just not quite as deep as the near-6% at an annual rate contraction we saw in the first quarter. It is difficult to rejoice over an employment data that is consistent with real GDP still declining anywhere from a 2% to 4% at an annual rate. Now here we are, close to nine months after the Lehman collapse, and we are still printing employment numbers that are double what they were before pre-Lehman. That is the bigger picture.

Moreover, the internals of today’s report, in a word, were awful. Not only are businesses still cutting jobs but they are also reducing the hours that their employees are working; the private workweek hit a new record low of 33.1 hours (from 33.2 hours in April). So, total labour input was much weaker than the headline payroll suggests and this is vividly illustrated in the aggregate-hours worked index, which fell 0.7% MoM and something ‘green shoot’ advocates will not like discuss since this was actually worse than the 0.3% MoM drop in April; this takes the three-month trend to a -8.6% annual rate. Think about that for a moment because what goes into GDP is total hours worked and productivity — so the latter better continue to hang in there or else we are going to be seeing some nasty output data going forward that may well take Mr. Market by surprise. Put another way, if companies had held hours worked constant in May instead of cutting them, to achieve the total labour input they achieved last month would have required — get this — a 927,000 payroll cut. ‘Green shoot’ indeed.
Source: Gluskin Sheff Sphere: Related Content
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