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Unemployment And The Market

  • Written by Syndicated Publisher No Comments Comments
    December 9, 2013

    Here is the lead paragraph from the Employment Situation Summary released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

    The unemployment rate declined from 7.3 percent to 7.0 percent in November, and total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 203,000, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in transportation and warehousing, health care, and manufacturing.

    The report of 203K nonfarm number was higher than the Investing.com forecast, which was for 180K new nonfarm jobs. And the substantial drop in the unemployment rate from 7.3% to 7.0% was better than the Investing.com expectation of a decline to 7.2%.

    As for nonfarm payroll revisions, the number for September was revised from 163K to 175K, and October was revised from 204K to 200K. This gives us a combined total of 8K higher than previously reported.

    The unemployment peak for the current cycle was 10.0% in October 2009. The chart here shows the pattern of unemployment, recessions and both the nominal and real (inflation-adjusted) price of the S&P Composite since 1948.

    Unemployment is usually a lagging indicator that moves inversely with equity prices (top chart). Note the increasing peaks in unemployment in 1971, 1975 and 1982. The inverse pattern becomes clearer when viewed against real (inflation-adjusted) S&P Composite, with its successively lower bear market bottoms. The mirror relationship seems to be repeating itself with the most recent and previous bear markets.

     

     

    The second chart shows the unemployment rate for the civilian population unemployed 27 weeks and over. This rate has fallen significantly since its 4.3% all-time peak in April 2010. The latest number is 2.6% — matching the previous peak in 1983. This measure gives an alternative perspective on the relative severity of economic conditions.

     

     

    The next chart is an overlay of the unemployment rate and the employment-population ratio. This is the ratio of the number of employed people to the total civilian population age 16 and over.

     

     

    The inverse correlation between the two series is obvious. We can also see the accelerating growth of women in the workforce and two-income households in the early 1980’s. Following the end of the last recession, the employment population has three times bounced at 58.2% — a level that harkens back to the 58.1% ratio of March 1953, when Eisenhower was president of a country of one-income households, the Korean War was still underway, and rumors were circulating that soft drinks would soon be sold in cans.

    The latest ratio is 58.6%, which is in the bottom half of the consistently narrow range (58.2% to 59.3%) since the end of the last recession.

    For a confirming view of the secular change the US is experiencing on the employment front, the next chart illustrates the labor force participation rate. To one decimal places we’re at 63.0%, fractionally off the 62.8% interim low set last month. Today’s level was first seen in March 1978.

     

     

    The employment-population ratio and participation rate will be interesting to watch going forward. The first wave of Boomers will continue be a downward force on this ratio. The oldest of them were eligible for early retirement when the Great Recession began, and the Boomer transition to the retirement will accelerate over the next several years.

    What is the average length of unemployment? As the next chart illustrates, we are perhaps seeing a paradigm shift — the result of global outsourcing and efficiencies of technology. The post-recession duration of unemployment has remains disturbingly high at 37.2 weeks, although that’s off the 40.7-week all-time high in late 2011.

     

     

    The last chart is one of my favorites from Bill McBride at Calculated Risk. It shows the job losses from the peak employment month since World War II. Note the addition of the dotted-line alternative for the current cycle, which shows unemployment excluding the temporary census hiring.

     

     

    The start date of 1948 was determined by the earliest monthly unemployment figures collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The best source for the historic data is the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

     


    Here is a link to a Google source for customizable charts on US unemployment data (not seasonally adjusted) since 1990. You can compare unemployment at the national, state, and county level.

    Images: Flickr (licence attribution)

    About The Author

    My original dshort.com website was launched in February 2005 using a domain name based on my real name, Doug Short. I’m a formerly retired first wave boomer with a Ph.D. in English from Duke. Now my website has been acquired byAdvisor Perspectives, where I have been appointed the Vice President of Research.

    My first career was a faculty position at North Carolina State University, where I achieved the rank of Full Professor in 1983. During the early ’80s I got hooked on academic uses of microcomputers for research and instruction. In 1983, I co-directed the Sixth International Conference on Computers and the Humanities. An IBM executive who attended the conference made me a job offer I couldn’t refuse.

    Thus began my new career as a Higher Education Consultant for IBM — an ambassador for Information Technology to major universities around the country. After 12 years with Big Blue, I grew tired of the constant travel and left for a series of IT management positions in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. I concluded my IT career managing the group responsible for email and research databases at GlaxoSmithKline until my retirement in 2006.

    Contrary to what many visitors assume based on my last name, I’m not a bearish short seller. It’s true that some of my content has been a bit pessimistic in recent years. But I believe this is a result of economic realities and not a personal bias. For the record, my efforts to educate others about bear markets date from November 2007, as this Motley Fool article attests.

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