Friday, October 29, 2010

Eurozone unemployment rate up in September

Today Eurostat released the September unemployment rate figures for the European Union and the Eurozone. From the release:
The euro area1 (EA16) seasonally-adjusted2 unemployment rate3 was 10.1% in September 2010, compared with [downward revised] 10.0% in August4. It was 9.8% in September 2009. The EU27 unemployment rate was 9.6% in September 2010, unchanged compared with August4. It was 9.3% in September 2009.
The Eurozone unemployment rate has been above the EU (27) unemployment rate by an average 0.45% since the outset of 2007.

Across the Eurozone 16 countries, just 5 have seen their unemployment rates fall since October 2009 (I use the teilm020 table at Eurostat, which limits the time series to this time frame). Note that the unemployment rate in Italy rose over the month (8.1% to 8.3%), so unemployment rate is now unchanged since last year.

In the third quarter (the 3-month average ending in September 2010), the unemployment rate fell across 57% of the sample listed below (a highlight of the EU (27) countries plus Japan and the US). This is good, but the improvement is sluggish.

Rebecca Wilder

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unemployment rates in Europe: improving ever so slightly

Based on internet searches that lead to my website, there's quite a bit of interest regarding unemployment across Europe. Usually, they are led to this post, which is quite dated.

Going forward, I plan to update the European employment trends as they are released on the Eurostat website. Generally this data is about one month lagged from the national statistics offices, since Eurostat harmonises the employment data for seasonalities and adheres to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommended definition . The current release is for August 2010; September will be released in two days.

The first notable shift is that the 3-month moving average ending in August of the unemployment rate (the average across three months) fell compared to that ending in May (a sort of proxy of quarters) across 52% of the sample illustrated in the chart below (many EU economies plus Japan and the US). The average percentage drop (not drop in percentage points) was fairly small, though, -3.5% over the two periods (i.e., the green dot hovers around the outside end of the blue bar). For the September release, we will see the quarterly shift in Q3.

In the Eurozone, the Eurozone 16 that is, the shift in the unemployment rate over the last year is down for just 5 economies: Finland, Italy, Germany, Malta, and Austria.

(Note: some of you may wonder why I compare October 2009 to August 2010. Well, that's the way that it is listed in table teilm020 at the Eurostat website. One can get a longer time series, but this is the table I will use going forward.)

So there you have it. The harmonised unemployment rates are generally screaming "weak" in Europe. Going forward, fiscal austerity is expected to directly pressure unemployment rates across those countries that are tightening. Also, a persistent strengthening of the currency (has yet to be determined) may play a role in key exporting industries, like Germany, where exporters hire large pools of labor.

Rebecca Wilder

Update: Click here for the September 2010 report.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A little perspective on the impact that a weaker USD will have on overall economic activity

The Japanese yen, the Eurozone euro, and the British pound have appreciated 16%, 14%, and 9%, against the USD, respectively, since their 2010 lows. Some say that the "US wins" since the Fed's quantitative easing (QE2) will drive export growth via a weaker dollar. (Note that the Fed has not actually announced QE2, this is all just speculation.)

I'm not suggesting that the stated Fed policy will be to drive down the dollar. What I do know, however, is that the United States production model is not structurally positioned to enjoy the economic panacea that is a persistent debasement of the dollar, neither in the near- nor medium- term.

The bottom chart illustrates the export share in overall economic GDP, as forecasted by the European Commission (you can download this data at the Eurostat website). Notice that the US share of exports, expected to be just 12.3% in 2010, is minuscule compared to the export markets in Europe. So what I gather from a chart like this is that the weak dollar will hurt Europe much more than it will "help" the United States.

We need domestic policy to support full employment and the expansion of our export sector that will eventually arise. See Marshall Auerback's post this week at Credit Writedowns for a discussion on austerity, currency wars, and exchange rates.

Rebecca Wilder

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A proxy for nominal aggregate demand and payroll growth: Treasury receipts are recovering...

I present an update on aggregate demand using the highest frequency of economic data available, US Treasury tax receipts. Tax receipts serve as a proxy for nominal aggregate demand via a nominal indicator of private payroll growth.

US daily Treasury tax receipts are improving. (This chart has been modified since its original posting to enable reader to click to enlarge).

The chart illustrates the federal deposits of income and employment taxes that are recorded on a daily basis and presented here as the annual pace of the 30-day rolling sum. The red line illustrates the average annual growth rate spanning the period 2005-current.

Since roughly April of 2010, the annual pace of income and employment tax receipts has been above the average, 2.8%. In the third quarter, the annual pace of income and employment tax receipts remained around 4%, consistent with the second quarter pace. Hours and employment are improving, supporting wage gains and higher tax receipts. But more importantly, the pace of tax receipt growth has not faltered, demonstrating ongoing recovery in the labor market and consumer demand.

But it's not enough. The gains in tax receipts are likely a function of firms adding back hours instead of pumping up the work force. (see my previous post with links on the "hourless recovery").

The chart above illustrates the cyclical loss from recession and gains during the recovery of private net-jobs (payroll) and aggregate weekly hours (you can see the summary data from the September payroll report here).

Both series found a trough in the third quarter of 2009, which is consistent with the bottom in tax receipt growth (chart above). However, the hours index has recovered quicker than has its payroll counterpart (of course it fell farther, too). To date, both private hours and payroll are 7% short of their values at the peak of the economic cycle.

Receipts are growing, but not vigorously enough to indicate any shift in the current trajectory of payroll growth. Therefore, nominal aggregate demand remains weak. Furthermore, the still-nascent household deleveraging cycle is very likely moving at snail-speed (see this article for a discussion of the link between consumption growth, income growth, and deleveraging for today's commentary).

Rebecca Wilder

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

China's competitive devaluation

This commentary is crossposted with Angry Bear blog.

China took the world by surprise on Tuesday by raising bank lending and deposit rates for the first time since 2007. The story is, that restrictive monetary policy (i.e., raising rates) is needed to curb excessive lending, with an eye on mitigating inflation pressures. See this Bloomberg article to the point.

While restrictive monetary policy is needed, raising rates is not the only tool available to policy makers: China could allow their currency (CNY) to appreciate. With support from the fiscal sector, a broad CNY appreciation would improve prospects for global growth ex China via import demand. Instead, the higher domestic rates may crimp domestic demand, perhaps reducing inflation, but contemporaneously lowering import demand.

In my view, China's move yesterday should be viewed as competitive devaluation: reducing domestic prices in order to capture a competive edge. The currency war, as so-called by Brazil’s finance minister, Guido Mantega, is afoot; and China just confirmed its participation.

Textbook economics says that a central bank cannot have it all: independent monetary policy, a fixed exchange rate, and open financial markets (the impossible trinity). China has a fixed exchange rate (currently, it's effectively pegged to the USD, see chart below) with tightly monitored capital markets. This means that the Chinese economy effectively matches the "easy monetary conditions" of its counterpart, the US. Monetary policy in China is too loose.

Going forward, further accommodative monetary policy in the US will likewise loosen policy further in China; inflation pressures will be even more robust. But, large-scale asset purchases on the part of the Fed will likewise weaken the USD, which is positive for US exports and negative for US import demand.

All in all, policy makers in China are looking at the USD move with tunnel vision. If the CNY maintians its current trajectory (effectively flat), then any shift in relative prices based on the recent (or future) rate hikes will reduce the CNY real exchange rate (all else equal, of course) - that's competitive domestic devaluation.

The table has already been set.

Chinese policy makers have slowed the nominal appreciation. Think about what could be if the CNY had maintained its 2005-2008 trajectory, where the CNY appreciated against the USD nearly 20%. Using the compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) over the same period, where the CNY gained 0.5% on a monthly basis against the USD, the month-end September CNY would be valued 11% higher against the USD than it is now.

They slowed real appreciation, too. The real appreciation of the CNY against its trading partners – the real exchange rate accounts for both nominal appreciation and price differentials across countries – slowed from an average 0.4% monthly gain spanning the period 2005-2008, as measured by the CAGR, to just 0.05% since then. (I use the JPMorgan real exchange rate index, but the BIS makes similar data available free of charge.)

The Chinese authorities are fully aware of the economic value of external demand (exports). The media will say that China’s trying to “cool” domestic inflation by raising domestic bank rates; but that’s not the full story. In my view, what they’re really trying to do is to “cool” domestic inflation in order to shift relative prices and depreciate the real exchange rate, all to gain a competitive advantage in global goods markets.

Rebecca Wilder

Monday, October 18, 2010

More on how the NY Times is wrong about the Japanese economy

The NY Times writes Japan Goes From Dynamic to Disheartened. As highlighted by Dean Baker, this article grossly misrepresents the dynamics of the Japanese economy. I likewise read this article with some dismay, wondering was there any actual research done in preparation for this commentary?

First, the reporter draws conclusions on the aggregate economy through anecdotal accounts of Japanese businesses and households. Here's one example:

But his living standards slowly crumbled along with Japan’s overall economy. First, he was forced to reduce trips abroad and then eliminate them. Then he traded the Mercedes for a cheaper domestic model. Last year, he sold his condo — for a third of what he paid for it, and for less than what he still owed on the mortgage he took out 17 years ago.

As highlighted by Dean Baker, the Japanese standard of living, measured by real per-capita income listed in the IMF World Economic Outlook database, has grown markedly over the last two decades. Spanning the years 1990 to 2010 (f), Japanese real average income grew 17%, while that in the US grew 33%. The growth differential across the two countries is admitteldy large; but Japan's standard of living has not crumbled, rather grown.

The article is overly pessimistic about the effects of Japanese deflation on the standard of living. Spanning the years 1999 - 2010 (f), the period for which the Japanese economy experienced persistent annual deflation, real per-capita income in Japan grew neck and neck with that of the US: 9.7% in Japan, versus 10.4% in the US.

Even worse, the article barely touches (misses actually) on the fundamental economic problem in Japan: the shrinking labor force. Spanning 1999 - 2010 (f), real GDP in Japan grew at less than 1/2 the pace of that in the US, 10% in Japan versus 23% in the US. Deflation? I think not; it's a secular decline in employment.

The chart illustrates a measure of productivity, as real GDP normalized by the level of employment (also from the IMF World Economic Outlook database). During the period 1999 - 2010 (f), productivity growth in Japan's been roughly in line with that of the US, 14% and 17%, respectively.

Finally, in my view this is the most egregious NY Times error:
But the bubbles popped in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Japan fell into a slow but relentless decline that neither enormous budget deficits nor a flood of easy money has reversed.
It wasn't that government deficits were not able to slow the decline - fiscal policy mistakes caused some of the decline.

Richard Koo, author of Balance Sheet Recession: Japan's Struggle with Uncharted Economics and its Global Implications and Chief Economist of Nomura Research Institute, who was interviewed for the NY Times article must be quite irked by the NY Times account of Japanese fiscal policy. Here's a presentation that Koo gave in 2008, where the title of slide 9 says it all: "Exhibit 9. Premature Fiscal Reforms in 1997 and 2001 Weakened Economy, Reduced Tax Revenue and Increased Deficit".

The government raised taxes in 1997 to see growth deline from 1.6% that year to -2% a year later.

Be careful what you read. Rebecca Wilder

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Who's bringing home the dough?

...Corporations. Since earnings season is now well underway, I decided to look at the breakdown of aggregate domestic income (gross domestic income). Corporate profits are up 44.7% since the outset of the US recovery, while wages and salary accruals are up just 0.9%.

The chart above illustrates the peak-trough losses (total loss), trough-Q2 2010 gains (total gain), and peak-Q2 (relative to peak) deviations of nominal gross domestic income, disaggregated by income type.

First up, wages and salaries (employer contributions for employee pension and insurance funds and of employer contributions for government social insurance) and private enterprises net of corporate profit incomes grew in sum spanning the recession (private enterprises net of corporate profits includes proprietor's income, which did fall). Furthermore, the drop in wage and salary accruals, -3.6%, was small compared to the drop in corporate profits, -18.1%.

Second, the corporate profit gains during the recovery massively outweigh the wage and salary gains over the same period, 44.7% versus 0.9%. Corporate profits are now 18.5% above the peak in 2007 IV, while wages and salaries hover 2.8% below.

The problem here is, that the deleveraging cycle is heavily weighted on the household sector (the workers at the corporations) - if corporate profit gains do not translate into hiring and wage gains, or even to further capital spending, economic growth will suffer going forward.

Better put, at the very minimum, the recent surge in corporate profits is not sustainable if firms do not distribute the gains to the real economy. Also, meager wage gains does make healthy deleveraging difficult for household sector. Therefore, the recent surge in gross domestic income (hence, it's spending counterpart, GDP) is not sustainable if corporate profits are not recycled.

Rebecca Wilder

Monday, October 11, 2010

Who's saving where? An application of the 3 Sector Financial Balances Map

This commentary is crossposted with Angry Bear Blog.

Dean Baker finds gaping holes in deficit hawk rhetoric using the simple accounting identity that national saving must equal the current account (S-I = CA). If the domestic private-sector's desire to save is positive, then the only way for the public sector (i.e., government) to net save is for the economy as a whole to run a sizable current account surplus.

Singapore does just that. Spanning the years 2004-2009, the average current account surplus was near 21% of GDP, which enabled the government to run surpluses near 5% of GDP and the private sector to save 16% of GDP. Singapore is a net-saver in all sectors of the economy: private, public, and international. However, it's Singapore's huge current account surplus that allows the domestic sector to net save, and not all financial balances are created equally.

Let's use a slightly different version of Rob Parenteau's 3 Sector Financial Balances Map to illustrate that not all financial balances are created equally.

The chart illustrates the combination of private and public surpluses (or deficits) that prevail at each of three "zones" of the Balanced Current Account Line (BCAL). The BCAL zones are: CA > 0 to the right of the red line, CA < 0 to the left of the red line, and CA = 0 on the red line. The World Economic Report database, October 2010, is used to construct the average 3-Sector Financial Balances Map for the IMF's Advanced Economies spanning the years 2004-2009. (Note: Singapore, Norway, and Iceland are not illustrated because their respective sector financial balance points lie outside the normal range and distort the map.)

The public-sector financial balance (PubS) for each economy is the IMF's measure of general government net lending as a percentage of GDP. The domestic private-sector financial balance (PrivS) is the residual of the current account as a percentage of GDP less PubS such that the following identity holds:

PrivS + PubS = Current Account
(please see Rob's post for further detail on the sectoral balances approach)

In the chart, the four quadrants of public-sector and private-sector financial balances that account for the CBAL zones across the Advanced Economies are:

I. PubS > 0 (public-sector surplus) and PrivS < 0 (domestic private-sector, households and firms, deficit)
II. PubS < 0 and PrivS < 0
III. PubS > 0 and PrivS > 0
IV. PubS < 0 and PrivS > 0

The quintessential savers are listed in quadrant III and to the right of the BCAL: Sweden, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, and Singapore (not shown). The classic debtors are listed in quadrant II and to the left of the BCAL: Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and a couple of other Eurozone economies that are not labeled (Cyprus, Malta, and Slovak Republic). Finally, quadrants I and IV list economies that have positive saving in one of the domestic accounts: public (I) or private (IV).

The point is pretty clear: in order for the government to net-save, PubS > 0, either the private sector must dissave and/or the current account must be in surplus. It's that simple.

Notice that the financial balances of Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Greece are in quadrant II and to the left of the CABL. These are averages, and the fiscal deficit worsened markedly in 2009 and 2010 as the private sector incentive to save surged. Currently, though, the fiscal adjustment requirements are huge (deep into quadrant II). For example, Spanish policymakers announced a deficit reduction path to take the PubS < 0 from 11.2% of GDP in 2009 to 9.3% in 2010, with a colossal further reduction of 4.9 percentage points to 4.4% of GDP in 2012.

Given that Spain, for example, is starting from a point of hefty private-sector deficits over the last five years, on average, the sole hope for a successful policy tightening lies with external demand growth (the current account). Spain needs massive export income in order to finance such reductions in the government deficits.

So who will succeed in reducing their public fiscal deficits? Pretty much any country with private surpluses has a fighting chance: Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, and the US even (on the corporate side). The problem is, that policy makers can't just tell the private sector to start dissaving. Well, it can, but incentives may be needed.

All else equal, recent FOMC announcements furthered a dollar sell-off, and along with recent disinflation the economy has a fighting chance if policy does move toward austerity. But as Dean Baker suggests, more currency re-valuation is needed.

Rebecca Wilder

Thursday, October 7, 2010

German industrial production: Hot or Not?

Hot now, maybe not in six months.

In Germany, industrial production increased 1.7% in August, or 10.7% over the year. The monthly surge beat expectations 3-times over (0.5% on Bloomberg).

According to MarketWatch:

After two rather disappointing months in the German industry, concerns about
fading external demand and the sustainability of the German recovery surfaced.
Today's numbers should hush these concerns. Not only once, but for a longer
period. Looking ahead, all available evidence points to a further strengthening
of the German industry," said Carsten Brzeski, senior economist at ING in Belgium.
To be sure, this report is consistent with a slew of recent German statistics beating expectations: the unemployment rate dropped to a near 20-year low; consumer confidence continues its fearless ascent; annual inflation is on an upward trend (as opposed to a downward one); and factory orders are increasing at an average 2% monthly rate, far above the pre-recessionary average (0.5%).

In contrast, the Ifo business climate survey, which breaks down expected and current conditions, portends a precipitous decline in annual industrial production activity in the next six months (see chart below).

The chart illustrates the 6-month lead of the trend in Ifo expectations index minus the trend in Ifo current index and the annual growth rate of industrial production. The series are highly correlated, and the expectations/current Ifo peaked in February and fell precipitously thereafter. This suggests that the pace of German industrial production should slow markedly in coming months, and possibly turn negative.

This is just one indicator, and may be a truly spectacular bit of data mining on my part. However, as external demand slows, the German economy, with its 46% of GDP export share, is openly exposed to its drag.
Rebecca Wilder

Monday, October 4, 2010

Retraining workers won't work

Update: one of our readers caught a mistake in the chart. I indexed the data to December 2008, or one year after the recession actually started in December 2007. The statistics that changed are formatted in bold, and the chart in the article has been updated. The analysis doesn't change at all, but the number of jobs lost during the recession is higher than those indicated in the original article.

From the NY Times, White House Plans Job Training Partnership (bold by me):

As part of efforts to address record-high levels of long-term unemployment, President Obama plans to announce a new national public-private partnership on Monday to help retrain workers for jobs that are in demand.

The national program is a response to frustrations from both workers and employers who complain that public retraining programs frequently do not provide students with employable skills. This new initiative is intended to help better align community college curriculums with the demands of local companies.

“The goal is to encourage community colleges and other training providers to work in close partnership with employers, to design a curriculum where they want to hire the people coming out of these programs right away,” said Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.
The White House has coined this program Skills for America's Future. The complication is, that lack of skills is not the problem for the 66% of the labor force aged 25 years and over without a bachelor's degree. The problem is the lack of jobs.

The chart illustrates the dynamics of employment by level of education through August 2010, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Note that the data are indexed to the onset of the recession, December 2007, where 100 implies that employment is now at its pre-recession level.

The only category to recover employment in full is that requiring a Bachelor's degree or higher. Furthermore, no material change in employment for BA's (or higher) has occurred since about a year ago, as indexed employment hovers around 100. No new jobs.

The levels of employment for those workers with the lowest levels of educational attainment, 1. and 2., are 10.2% and 6.6% below pre-recession levels, respectively. That is over 3.5 million jobs.

The White House program is targeted at community college students, or education category 3., some college or associate degree in the chart above. Employment for workers with a community college degree sits over 3.2% below pre-recession levels, or 1.1 million jobs. Retraining workers will not raise the employment level further.

The government needs to "add jobs", not "retrain workers", and stimulate domestic aggregate demand.

Rebecca Wilder