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Where has the Federal Reserve been?

2:19 pm in Economy, Government, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

As many folks know, I spend a bit of time each day perusing various news sites. My postings have been light the past few weeks and months as I’ve been working through issues after my sister’s death. More recently in the last week I’ve gotten a small piece of good news in my personal life (and not saying anything further as I try to nurture this news and make it grow – but it’s not a job) as well as further bad news for my extended family, so the roller coaster ride does continue.

But then I go and see a headline like this at NBCNews.com:

Fed ready to help economy ‘fairly soon,’ minutes show

Turns out, the article was from Reuters though their headline wasn’t much better:

Fed looks set to ease fairly soon barring swift rebound

Earth to Fed! Earth to Fed! Where in the holy hell have you been for these past few years?

(Reuters) – The Federal Reserve is likely to deliver another round of monetary stimulus “fairly soon” unless the economy improves considerably, minutes released on Wednesday from the U.S. central bank’s August meeting suggested.

While the meeting was held before a recent improvement in economic data, including a stronger-than-expected July reading for U.S. employment, policymakers were pretty categorical about their dissatisfaction with the current outlook.

…snip…

The Fed held policy steady at that gathering, but signaled a renewed readiness to act amid lingering softness in the economy. The minutes showed the central bank is actively considering a “flexible” bond-buying program, which could suggest that no upfront amount will be announced.

Let’s see. The “official” time frame for the Great Recession had a start in December 2007 and ended officially in June 2009. Last June I wrote a blog post where I predicted a double-dip recession. Officially, I was mistaken as the economy has managed to maintain just enough headway to avoid the term “recession.” But also last summer, I wrote a blog post asking Mr Bernanke just where the hell he has been these past few years. I and all the other people in long term un and underemployed situations have the same concerns. We want jobs. The Fed still has a “Mission Statement” that begins with direction for “…pursuit of maximum employment…” So we sit here with the official unemployment rate at 8.3% and the rate of un and underemployeds at 15%. These number still translate to nearly 13 million unemployed and another 10 to 15 million underemployed. And again, these numbers do NOT include new college grads trying to find their first full time jobs in their chosen fields. The numbers do NOT include all the millions who have been forced to become “self-employed, independent contractors. Add these groups into the official numbers and we are probably looking at (as a guesstimate) another 10 to 15 million people. Labor force participation was at 63.7%.

But have no fear! All is not lost. Why just today, one of Willard Mitt Romney’s top economic advisers proclaimed that The Benbernank is doing a smash up job as Fed chair and deserves to remain in the position while the Republican Party has added a plank calling for an annual audit of the Fed. My guess is this is the sop to Ron Paul. And to be honest, I can see this is a good plank. Of course, we still have the Todd Akin Memorial Anti-Abortion Plank Human Life Amendment so some things never change. After all, one of the reasons the Republicans re-took the US House in 2010 was because of the lack of jobs. Yet from the very start, the House concentrated on anti-abortion legislation that included “re-defining rape.”

Todd Akin isn’t an aberration in today’s Republican Party. He is the epitome of today’s Republican Party and Paul Ryan is right there with him. Meanwhile, the denizens of the Beltway wonder what all the fuss is about with jobs and millions of un and underemployed people wonder how they will survive.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor

Economists try to explain why they were wrong on March jobs forecasts

10:49 am in Economy, Jobs by dakine01

Percent Job Losses in Post WWII Recessions, calculatedriskblog.com

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Once again, the economic community is scrambling to find the reasons why they were suprised by the March 2012 jobs report. The monthly report from ADP had private sector jobs at 209K increase for March 2012 which apparently led many economists to predict a similar number for the official report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that was released on Friday.

Oops. Wrong again.

We have been seeing stories such as this from today’s NY Times about the “strong” jobs growth from earlier this year:

Although signs pointed to a strengthening economy earlier this year, the jobs report on Friday came with a message: don’t get ahead of yourself.

The country’s employers added a disappointing 120,000 jobs in March, about half the net gains posted in each of the preceding three months. The unemployment rate, which comes from a separate survey of households rather than employers, slipped to 8.2 percent, from 8.3 percent, as a smaller portion of the population looked for work.

120K jobs is not much more than is necessary to maintain the status quo of population growth (90K is the figure Dean Baker uses) and even 200K, while growing, does not appreciably put a dent in the long term un and underemployment rates. When there are 13M to 14M unemployed and 25M to 30M un and underemployed, 200K jobs is just not going to help all that much.

Surprisingly to me, the Benbernank may have been more realistic than many others (via Bloomberg.) Of course, the article goes on to quote Fed regional presidents as saying that the numbers, no matter how soft, probably won’t cause the Fed to actually, you know, do something to ease the un and underemployment problem. No matter that a primary part of the stated Federal Reserve Mission statement is to pursue “maximum” employment.

It does appear that the consensus being reported is to blame the warm weather from January and February for the lighter number for March. Here’s Dean Baker’s take: Read the rest of this entry →

Bernanke wrings his hands on jobs. Market reacts favorably.

4:43 pm in Economy, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

(photo: Old Sarge/flickr)

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So. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke gave a speech this morning.:

My remarks today will focus on recent and prospective developments in the labor market. We have seen some positive signs on the jobs front recently, including a pickup in monthly payroll gains and a notable decline in the unemployment rate. That is good news. At the same time, some key questions are unresolved. For example, the better jobs numbers seem somewhat out of sync with the overall pace of economic expansion. What explains this apparent discrepancy and what implications does it have for the future course of the labor market and the economy?

Importantly, despite the recent improvement, the job market remains far from normal; for example, the number of people working and total hours worked are still significantly below pre-crisis peaks, while the unemployment rate remains well above what most economists judge to be its long-run sustainable level. Of particular concern is the large number of people who have been unemployed for more than six months. Long-term unemployment is particularly costly to those directly affected, of course. But in addition, because of its negative effects on workers’ skills and attachment to the labor force, long-term unemployment may ultimately reduce the productive capacity of our economy.

Once again, it seems to be a speech that depends on the individual perspective as to the take-away. David Dayen at FDL News titled it “The “Better But Not Good Enough” Economy Conundrum” and it follows a pattern from earlier speeches. Last June, I wrote a post after a Benbernank speech that appeared to be at least four different speeches, depending on the spin. Getting it down to only two spins is a bit better. The problem I have with Bernanke and his speeches is that while he talks about the problems of the long term un and underemployed, he never really seems to get around to doing anything about it, even while “pursuit of maximum employment” is part of the stated Federal Reserve mission.

While it appears that the folks on Wall Street and the various stock exchanges loved Bernanke’s speech, it has been obvious to anyone paying attention that Wall Street and the various stock exchanges don’t really have much of a connection to the real world economies. As Dayen notes in his post: Read the rest of this entry →

Limited Good Economic News Won’t Last

10:11 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

"Perishable!" by Young Master Sunshine on flickr

"Perishable!" by Young Master Sunshine on flickr

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You might have seen some headlines from yesterday on the weekly report of Initial Unemployment claims about those claims “falling sharply” (Reuters headline phrase):

Applications for unemployment benefits fell by 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 391,000 in the week ending September 24 from an upwardly revised 428,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said on Thursday. 

My first prediction today is that the 391K figure first announced will be revised upwards when next week’s report comes out. My second prediction is whatever good news that can be wrung from this report will have a limited overall effect.

CNN’s report was a bit more circumspect with this:

The recent drop to 391,000 maked the lowest level since the week of April 2, when 385,000 new claims came in. 

Still, economists cautioned against getting too excited about the better number. It’s just one week of data, and according to a government spokesman, seasonal adjustments could have impacted the calculation.

…snip… Read the rest of this entry →

Mr Bernanke, Just What the Hell Are You Waiting For?

9:35 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

Ben Bernanke, Vampire Chairman

Ben Bernanke, Vampire Chairman by DonkeyHotey

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Yesterday (Wednesday July 13), Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke was once again before Congress, testifying on the economy. Buried way down in the Reuters coverage of the hearing was this little nugget:

After recovering from the steepest recession in generations beginning in the summer of 2009, the U.S. economy has lost momentum in recent months. Gross domestic product expanded just 1.9 percent in the first three months of the year, and the second quarter does not look to have been much better. 

Bernanke held to the view that recent weakness was due in part to temporary factors like energy costs and the effects on global industry from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

But he acknowledged the labor market remains weaker than the Fed would like.

The labor market also remains weaker than the 14M unemployed and the 25M – 30M un and underemployed would like as well. While part of the stated Fed mission is “pursuit of maximum employment,” the actions of the Fed over these last few years seem to have been more along the lines of “we’ll pretend to do something and maybe the miracle will occur.” As far as Bernanke’s “…view that recent weakness was due in part to temporary factors…,” as I’ve stated before, there are always “temporary factors” that are going to have an effect on life. It is part of life and should be part of his work to be anticipating and dealing with those “temporary factors” as they occur rather than using them as an excuse.
Read the rest of this entry →

Unfortunately, Another Correct Prediction

6:59 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

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Ho hum. Here we are once again. The weekly report of Initial Unemployment Claims is out, jobless claims for last week are up “more than expected,” the figures from last week’s report have been revised upwards again, economists are surprised and water is wet. Via Reuters:

New claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, a government report showed on Thursday, suggesting little improvement in the labor market this month after employment stumbled in May.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits climbed 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 429,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week’s figure was revised up to 420,000.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims to edge up to 415,000 from a previously reported count of 414,000.

For what it’s worth, I called last week that the numbers would most likely be revised upwards to 420K:

Just as they did last week, the reporter just brushes right on by how the figures for the week before had been revised upwards. Last week it was reported as 427K now revised up to 430K – the week before it had originally been reported as 422K but then revised up to 426K. I would not be surprised if next week’s report revised this week’s numbers upwards again, closer to the original figure from the economists of 420K.

At least this week, the reporter actually manages to provide last week’s original numbers as well as the revised numbers. While the economists actually were (belatedly) correct with the numbers last week, I do not think we will see a revision downwards from 429K to 415K when the numbers are reported next week.
Read the rest of this entry →

Officially, It Will Be a Double-Dip

9:21 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

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When I was a kid, I used to love double-dips. I’d go to the doctor and afterwards, we’d stop by the drug store soda fountain for my free ice cream. Summers, there would be all the ice cream suppers at the churches with fresh home made ice cream and cake. Double-dips of chocolate ice cream and cake!

Unfortunately however, today’s double-dip will be a recession. Yes, there it is; I’m predicting that we will officially fall back into a recession in the very near future even though for the 25M to 30M long term un and underemployed, we’ve never, ever left the recession that began officially back in December ’07 and ended officially in June ’09. I do so very much hope that I am wrong on this but will even go so far as to act like an economist and claim to be surprised if I am wrong.

What makes me think this will happen? Well, to start with, too many folks like The Benbernank in his speech last Tuesday in Atlanta and the presidents of the Philadelphia and New York Federal Reserve Banks all saying the economy will improve in the second half of 2011. In addition, Bloomberg has a survey of economists claiming this as well:

After growing at a 2.3 percent annual pace this quarter, the world’s largest economy will expand at a 3.2 percent rate from July through December, according to the median forecast of 67 economists polled from June 1 to June 8.

Rising exports, stable fuel prices, record levels of cash in company coffers and easier lending rules will be enough to overcome the damage done by one-time events like poor weather and the disaster in Japan, economists said. Nonetheless, the current slackening means Federal Reserve policy makers will wait even longer to raise interest rates next year, the survey shows.

The reality is, the corporations have been holding those record levels of cash for over a year now (via WSJ). They have used the money to buy back stocks or to invest in equipment (NY Times). Another reality is there are always “one-time events.” This year it is earthquakes/tsunamis/nuclear melt-downs in Japan and tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri combined with floods along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and wildfires in Texas and Arizona. This past winter, it was record blizzards. Later this summer it will be hurricanes in some areas and droughts in others. All “one-time events.”

BlackRock Investment Management CEO Laurence Fink is predicting that the US economy will lag the global economy for the next five to ten years. CNN says it will be because of household debt. My guess is that it won’t be helped by the Japanese economy contracting 3.5% in the first quarter, Australia adding fewer jobs than predicted (economists surprised!), Spain making unilateral moves (via NY Times) that go against the wishes of businesses and labor that no one thinks will work.

Nouriel Roubini is predicting that the Chinese economy will have a “hard landing” in 2013. (Side note: I had to laugh at Roubini’s wiki page):

In 2008, Fortune magazine wrote, “In 2005 Roubini said home prices were riding a speculative wave that would soon sink the economy. Back then the professor was called a Cassandra. Now he’s a sage”.[1]

I find it interesting that if you check the link at the footnote on the Roubini wiki page and scroll through the “8 who saw the financial crisis coming and the 8 who didn’t,” the “8 who didn’t…” are the ones still being quoted all the time. So much for Roubini becoming a “sage” instead of a Cassandra.

As always, we are not helped when we see Dana Milbank proclaiming that Austan Goolsbee leaving means President Obama is losing a “voice of reason.” That is the same Goolsbee who just last week was bragging about 1M private sector jobs having been created while ignoring the hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs lost.

Nor are we helped when the President goes on his weekly radio address and announces (via AFP):

“Now, government is not — and should not be — the main engine of job-creation in this country. That’s the role of the private sector, ” the president said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

“But one thing government can do is partner with the private sector to make sure that every worker has the necessary skills for the jobs they?re applying for,” Obama added.

As I noted in this post from Thursday, Dean Baker has already written the rebuttal to the “necessary skills” argument.

Reuters noted in their article on the weekly address that:

President Barack Obama, seeking to ease voters’ concerns about his handling of the U.S. economy, said on Saturday a meeting with his jobs council next week would focus on possible further steps to boost hiring in the short term.

That would be the “Jobs Council” of Outsourcers and Masters of the Universe.

Just think, now Reuters has a headline that starting tomorrow (Monday June 13), they will offer a column from Larry Summers on the “jobs crisis.”

I keep wondering how The Onion manages to write their stuff with all the competition from reality.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy

Just How Many Speeches Did Ben Bernanke Give Yesterday?

6:46 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

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Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a speech yesterday (Tuesday, June 7) to the International Monetary Conference in Atlanta, GA. Only one speech. Yet looking around the Toobz at the various headlines at news sites on this speech, it must have been an all things to all people speech as I’ve found at least four different perspectives presented, some of them directly contradictory.

The most prevalent theme appears to be The Benbernank as cheerleader (links embedded in titles):

Then there are the deficit hawk headline writers:

AP via USA Today: Bernanke: We ‘urgently’ need to fix the debt problem (with the same AP article as MSNBC)

NY Times: Fed Wants Priority Put On Deficit

The almost cheerleader:

And finally, the seemingly contradictory:

So taken all together, it seems that things are bad but getting better except where they aren’t; everything is going to be just fine; we need a stimulus except where we don’t; and except for that pesky jobs thing, it’s all good.

Meanwhile, in today’s ‘water is wet’ articles, Jamie Dimon whines to the Benbernank about the new banking rules:

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon asked Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke whether regulators have gone too far by reining in the U.S. banking system and are slowing economic growth.
Read the rest of this entry →

The Beltway Fantasy Land In Operation

7:11 pm in Economy, Government, Jobs, Media, Unemployment by dakine01

Unicorn

Unicorn by goodevilgenius, on Flickr

It is almost impossible for me to freshly describe the ongoing disconnect between what we see and hear coming out of the mouths of people in and around the Beltway Village and the facts on the ground for the rest of the country. I won’t say that they must be on drugs because I’ve used drugs and I never was as far away from reality as the Beltway Village Idiots Pundits, Politicians, and Courtiers. They just live inside a fantasy bubble. It might be acceptable if the decisions they make each day didn’t have such negative consequences for the rest of us.

The Initial Unemployment Claims report for last week came out today (Thursday April 28), and guess what? It surprised the economists. From Reuters:

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits jumped 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 429,000, up from a slightly upwardly revised 404,000 the preceding week, the Labor Department said. Economists polled by Reuters were expecting claims to slip to 392,000 from the previously reported 403,000.

Of course, usually the surprise is the claims didn’t fall as much as expected but today the claims went in the totally opposite direction than the predictions. Yet some of them refuse to give up their pre-conceived notions as AP quotes a Deutsche Bank economist that it is just “technical factors.”

Well, those “technical factors” include the US economy growing at 1.8% for the first quarter of the year. From the NY Times:

American economic expansion slowed to a crawl in the first quarter, but economists are hopeful that the setback will be temporary. Total output grew at an annual rate of 1.8 percent from January through March, the Commerce Department said Thursday, after expanding at a 3.1 percent pace in the fourth quarter of 2010.

When the year began, economists expected a more robust growth rate of about 4 percent, only to be barraged by bad report after bad report. Turmoil in the Middle East led to higher oil prices, which had already been climbing because of increased demand in emerging markets like China. Housing sales dropped sharply. Winter blizzards closed businesses and delayed construction, causing investments in nonresidential structures like office buildings to fall 21.7 percent from the previous quarter. Imports, which are subtracted from gross domestic product, surged. Military spending sank.

There are all sorts of ready-made excuses for the economists as to why the slow growth, however there were two other stories in the news today that tell me far more about where the economy is today than any of the economic predictions.

First up is this report via CNN:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Wal-Mart’s core shoppers are running out of money much faster than a year ago due to rising gasoline prices, and the retail giant is worried, CEO Mike Duke said Wednesday.

…snip…

Wal-Mart shoppers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, typically shop in bulk at the beginning of the month when their paychecks come in.

…snip…

Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500), which averages 140 million shoppers weekly to its stores in the United States, is considered a barometer of the health of the consumer and the economy.

To that end, Duke said he’s not seeing signs of a recovery yet.

Read the rest of this entry →

February Jobs Reports Coming Out

11:16 am in Economy, Financial Crisis, Jobs, Unemployment by dakine01

Since today (Wednesday March 2) is the first Wednesday of the new month, Automatic Data Processing (ADP) has released their monthly report estimating the new jobs for February for the private sector. As always, the economists were surprised. From Reuters:

(Reuters) – Private sector employers added more jobs than expected last month in a sign of steady improvement in the labor market, ahead of the closely watched non-farm payrolls report from the Labor Department on Friday.

Employers added 217,000 jobs in February, the ADP Employer Services report showed on Wednesday, above expectations for a rise of 175,000. January’s figure was revised higher by 2,000 to 189,000.

Economists said the private-sector hiring indicates improvement in the labor market, though they noted the month-to-month changes in ADP’s report are not always good predictors of Friday’s larger jobs numbers.

There is a quite simple explanation for why the month-to-month changes in the ADP report do not predict the larger report from the DoL Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS reporting includes jobs from all levels including the public sector which has been laying people off even as the pace of hiring has picked up a bit in the private sector.

Of course, even as there was some new hiring in February, layoffs also continued with Reuters also reporting this morning on a report from consultants Challenger Gray & Christmas on an increase in February of the numbers of planned layoffs:

(Reuters) – The number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms rose in February to its highest level in 11 months as government and non-profit employers let workers go, a report showed on Wednesday.

Employers announced 50,702 planned job cuts last month, the highest level since March 2010 and a jump of 32 percent from January’s 38,519, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. Layoffs were 20 percent higher than the 42,090 announced in February of last year, marking the first year-over-year increase since May 2009.

This doesn’t even begin to get to the jobs that will be lost with the budget cuts pushed by the Republican controlled House of Representatives. According to a report by Moody’s Analytic’s Mark Zandi (via the Washington Post), these cuts will mean 700,00 jobs lost from now through 2012:

A Republican plan to sharply cut federal spending this year would destroy 700,000 jobs through 2012, according to an independent economic analysis set for release Monday.

The report, by Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi, offers fresh ammunition to Democrats seeking block the Republican plan, which would terminate dozens of programs and slash federal appropriations by $61 billion over the next seven months.

Zandi, an architect of the 2009 stimulus package who has advised both political parties, predicts that the GOP package would reduce economic growth by 0.5 percentage points this year, and by 0.2 percentage points in 2012, resulting in 700,000 fewer jobs by the end of next year.

Being the good little doobie that he is, the Benbernank is quoted by Reuters as testifying earlier today that the cuts will cause only 200k jobs to be lost. Now isn’t that special. From the Reuters report:

(Reuters) – Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday a Republican spending cut plan would not cause a big dent to U.S. economic growth, but could cost around 200,000 jobs.

Bernanke said that a $60 billion cut along the lines being pursued by Republican in the House of Representatives would likely trim growth by around two-tenths of a percentage point in the first year and one-tenth in the next year.

“That would translate into a couple of hundred thousand jobs. So it’s not trivial,” he said in response to questions from members of the House Financial Services Committee.

Don’t you just love the parsing of his words there. The cuts won’t make a big dent but they aren’t trivial. Nothing like trying to please everyone and pleasing no one.

Of course, things are also not helped when the Law of Unintended Side Consequences comes into play as it has with the recent extension of the Bush (now Bush/Obama) Tax Cuts. It seems the tax cuts are also hitting state budgets to the tune of $5.3B.

Struggling states could lose as much as $5.3 billion in tax collections during the next few years in an unintended consequence of one of the lower-profile federal tax cuts that President Obama signed in December, according to a report released Tuesday.

The tax-cut package the president signed in December is best known for extending the Bush-era tax rates for two years and giving a one-year payroll tax cut to most Americans. But it included a business tax cut that could blow a hole in state budgets: a provision allowing businesses to deduct the full value of new equipment purchases from their taxes through 2011.

That cut, intended to spur the economy by encouraging businesses to spend more money on equipment, could end up costing 19 states as much as $5.3 billion in lost revenue over the next few years, according to the report, by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research organization based in Washington.

The 19 states stand to lose money because they link their state tax laws to federal tax law. So the newly allowed federal tax deductions that businesses in those states take will lower their taxable incomes, which would in turn have the effect of driving down state corporate and income tax collections.

Oopsie.

So we wait until Friday for the official BLS Jobs Report. I usually don’t put a number on the figure of new jobs since I’m not an economist that is always surprised that my figure is wrong. I will however make the bold prediction that the number of new jobs reported Friday for February will be less than half the 217k reported by ADP today. But we shouldn’t worry, Tom Brokaw tells us that all we need are new skills and all will work out in the end.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy