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Saturday, December 05, 2015

Financial Review

Another Strong Jobs Report

DOW + 369 = 17,847
SPX + 42 = 2091
NAS + 104 = 5142
10 YR YLD – .05 = 2.28%
OIL – 1.01 = 40.07
GOLD + 25.30 = 1087.90

The economy added 211,000 jobs last month, beating estimates of about 200,000. The unemployment rate held steady at 5% as more workers entered the labor pool. The Labor Force Participation Rate increased in November to 62.5%, from 62.4% in October. The last two months’ jobs numbers were revised higher. The government said 298,000 new jobs were created in October instead of 271,000. September’s gain was raised to 145,000 from 137,000. Over the past 12 months, the economy has added 2.64 million jobs.

Let’s break down jobs by sector: Employment in construction rose by 46,000 in November, with much of the increase occurring in residential specialty trade contractors (+26,000). Over the past year, construction employment has grown by 259,000.

Professional and technical services added 28,000 jobs. Over the year, professional and technical services have added 298,000 jobs.

Health care employment increased by 24,000 over the month, following a large gain in October (+51,000). In November, hospitals added 13,000 jobs. Health care employment has grown by 470,000 over the year.

Employment in food services and drinking places continued to trend up in November (+32,000) and has risen by 374,000 over the year.

Retail trades added 31,000 and has increased by 284,000 over the year.

Mining lost 11,000 jobs; this area includes jobs in oil drilling and support services. Since a recent peak in December 2014, employment in mining has declined by 123,000.

Information lost 12,000 jobs over the month. Within the industry, employment in motion pictures and sound recording decreased by 13,000 in November but has shown little net change over the year.

State and local governments added 8,000 jobs in November, while the federal government added 6,000 jobs.

The past five years of job growth have been in the private sector. Government jobs are still 561,000 below the peak.

The number of persons working part time for economic reasons increased in November. These workers are included in an alternate measure of unemployment known as the U6, which increased to 9.9% from 9.8%.

In November, average hourly earnings for all employees on private non-farm payrolls rose by $.04 cents to $25.25, following a $.09 cent gain in October. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.3 percent, falling from a 2.5% pace in October that raised hopes of rising wages in the months ahead. The average workweek for all employees on private non-farm payrolls edged down by 0.1 hour to 34.5 hours in November.

Prepare for liftoff. Unless there is some catastrophe in the next 12 days, the jobs report was strong enough to lock in a Federal Reserve rate increase at the upcoming December 16th FOMC meeting. This was the last major economic report before the Fed policy meeting, and recent speeches from Fed Chair Janet Yellen and other policymakers leaves little doubt about their intentions.

In yesterday’s testimony to Congress’s Joint Economic Committee, Yellen stated her view that given existing demographics the United States needs to create about 100,000 jobs per month to absorb the natural growth of the labor force. Any job creation above that would be consistent with continued improvement in the labor market, either further cutting the unemployment rate or else drawing new people into the labor force out of the ranks of the discouraged; and that is exactly what we saw in this month’s jobs report – more people entered the work force.

Yellen has not quite come out and said explicitly that 100,000 new jobs is the green light for a December rate hike, but she’s dropped about as many hints as the Fed ever does about the future course of economic policy. When the Fed hikes rates on December 16th, it will be one of the best communicated rate hikes ever.

There is no question that the labor market has shown improvement. The economy has added jobs for 69 consecutive months, gaining more than 13.7 million jobs. The unemployment rate dropped down to 5% in October and even as more people moved into the labor force in November, the unemployment rate held steady.

This is quite simply a historic time for job growth. And don’t give me the garbage about how you don’t’ believe the numbers. The statistics are imperfect, I grant, but they are the most accurate information available and there is no evidence they have been doctored – none. And this slow, steady, and strong job growth doesn’t fit into many political narratives but you should look at the numbers rather than narratives.

We are now at what the Fed would like to call full employment; that point where everybody who has some job skills and wants a job, can find a job; the point where there are just enough jobs to stimulate growth without pushing inflation above target. The problem is – we’re not there yet. Millions of working age people left the workforce in the downturn and they have not returned. The percentage of the population working was unchanged at 59.3, which is only a tenth of a percentage point higher than it was a year earlier.

The uptick in the participation rate, though small and based on historically low levels, is an encouraging indication of progress for those who had dropped out of the labor force. It suggests that labor-market slack still is greater than the 5% unemployment rate would strictly indicate.

And wages just have not been growing, which means no wage push inflation. For many people, a pay increase only comes with a second, or third job. So, we’re not yet at the point where demand pushes economic growth. The economy can probably add millions more jobs and the unemployment rate could drop to about 4% before we really see full employment.

Yesterday, Yellen said, “I think we’ve seen some welcome hints” of wage increases, but she cautioned, “it’s tentative evidence; we don’t know if it will last.”

Meanwhile the European Central Bank cut interest rates yesterday and extended their quantitative easing program. The Bank of Japan recently added more stimulus to prop up their economy. The divergence has resulted in a stronger dollar which hurts US exports, as seen in a separate report today showing the U.S. trade deficit widened in October as exports fell to a three-year low, suggesting that trade could again weigh on economic growth in the fourth quarter. The Commerce Department said the trade gap rose 3.4 percent to $43.9 billion, a sign that the worst of the drag from a stronger dollar was far from over. September’s trade deficit was revised up to $42.5 billion from the previously reported $40.8 billion.

The blowout year for mergers and acquisitions just keeps getting bigger. According to Dealogic, global M&A volume just soared to $4.3 trillion, pushing 2015 to date ahead of 2007’s total, when the previous record of $4.29 trillion of mergers was struck. U.S. targeted M&A volume hit a record high in September and currently stands above $2 trillion for the first time ever. What’s driving the deal making? Cheap debt, which might change if the Fed hikes rates.

Uber is raising more money, and the new valuation will make it larger than 80% of the S&P 500 stocks, including old, established names like Dow Chemical, BlackRock, and Netflix. Bloomberg reports the car-booking startup is looking to raise as much as $2.1 billion in a financing round that would give it a valuation of $62.5 billion. Uber has increased actual U.S. gross revenue about 200 percent this year and is profitable in more than 80 cities around the world, and the number of U.S. trips completed this year has increased 250 percent compared with the same period last year.

So, why is the Fed on a near-certain track to raise interest rates? Normally Wall Street reacts badly to the prospect of rate hikes, but today’s triple digit rally in the Dow Industrials and the NASDAQ Comp, are just an indication that a Fed rate hike has been baked into the cake and the strong jobs numbers really are an indication of a stronger economy, which should be reflected with higher valuations.

The Fed’s easy money policies have driven Wall Street for the past 7 years, and there has to be some concern that if the Fed takes the punchbowl away, the party might be over. But that might be part of the reason why the Fed is no longer willing to keep monetary policy at the emergency levels of 2008. The Fed has to be concerned that an overabundance of free money is spoiling corporate America, resulting in unicorn valuations. We know how that story ends and it is ugly. The thinking is that it is better to tap on the brakes now, even though the economy is growing slowly, rather than waiting for the economy to go much faster and slam on the brakes, only to swerve into the ditch, again.

Also, remember the exhortations of Former Fed chair Bernanke, repeated by current Fed chair Yellen, that there is only so much we should expect from monetary policy. Economic growth must be supported by fiscal policy. The House and Senate have taken a concrete step toward reviving the Export-Import Bank, by voting to renew the bank’s funding as part of a five-year highway and transportation construction measure. Obama signed the bill into law today, hours before current funding was scheduled to run out. The highway bill is a good example of fiscal policy adding to economic growth; spending on infrastructure is an investment that pays dividends in jobs and increased productivity, and taking on infrastructure projects while rates are still low just makes sense.

But today’s jobs report signals that rates won’t stay low for long. And that means higher mortgage rates, higher credit for auto loans and credit cards, and all manner of debt. And it is coming sooner rather than later.

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