Saturday, December 8, 2018

Weaker Employment Report Due to Higher Tariffs?

Financial FAQs

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 155,000 in November, and the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.7 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job gains occurred in health care, in manufacturing, and in transportation and warehousing.

The slightly weaker report showed little inflation that might keep the Fed from raising interest rates further in their December FOMC meeting. The Federal Reserve may not want to push rates higher because of the ongoing trade wars that threaten jobs and growth next year. This was brought out in the wild stock market gyrations of late. The DOW down plunged more than 1,000 points this week, erasing all its gains for the year, in part due to fears of upcoming layoffs due to the rising tariff costs.

Average hourly earnings increased just 0.2 percent, which was on the low side of expectations. The year-on-year rate for earnings held unchanged at 3.1 percent, again on the low side of expectations, which should keep the retail (CPI) inflation rate in the 2 percent range.

Another sign of moderation comes from average weekly hours which, at 34.4, are at the low end of expectations. Manufacturing hours and overtime are steady, which with the 27,000 jobs created show moderate results for the upcoming industrial production report.

Overall manufacturing activity as detailed in the November ISM Manufacturing Index was extremely strong with new orders, at 62.1, up 4.7 points, back over 60 in one of the longest runs in the long history of this report that it had held for a year-and-half. This may not continue if the steel and aluminum tariffs, however, are not eventually eased that are a large part of manufacturing costs.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) declined to 62.9 percent, and the employment-population by 120,000 to 1.3 million in November. These individuals accounted for 20.8 percent of the unemployed.

Both the labor force participation rate, at 62.9 percent, and the employment-population ratio, at 60.6 percent, were unchanged in November, said the BLS. The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers), at 4.8 million, changed little in November. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs.

The report wasn’t strong enough to prevent expectations of further economic uncertainty amid the ongoing trade war with China, in particular, that has been given a 90-day reprieve at the G20 economic summit. The so-called reprieve did nothing for the existing tariffs in steel and aluminum initiated by Trump and agricultural tariffs enacted by China in response, which are boosting costs for both manufacturers and consumers.

Are we about to enter another recession, the sixth recession in two decades? Five have occurred since 1981, including the Great Recession. Two were during Ronald Reagan’s Presidency (1981, 1983), one under GHW Bush (1991), and two under GW Bush (2001, 2007). All have occurred under Republican administrations, in other words, administrations noted for cutting taxes, but not spending. Are we seeing a pattern?

The Trump administration is trying the opposite tack. It has cut taxes, but erected higher trade barriers. The results are already clear. General Motors just announced it is poised to end production at five plants in the U.S. and Canada, kill off several passenger cars – including the Chevrolet Impala – and slash 15 percent of its salaried workforce in a sweeping cost-cutting plan designed to boost profits and adjust to America's changing tastes in vehicles, as I mentioned last week.

The move — part of a sweeping cost-cutting plan unveiled Monday — comes as Americans are abandoning passenger cars in favor of crossovers, SUVs and pickups, said USA Today. But the underlying reason is that GM and Ford announced the 25 percent boost in steel tariffs, and 10 percent boost in aluminum tariffs enacted by the Trump administration will cost each an extra $1 billion in production costs next year.

Higher tariffs will not bring more jobs home—especially those higher-paying manufacturing jobs we were promised—if those tariffs aren’t eventually removed.

Harlan Green © 2018

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter:

No comments: