US labour market – poor results – not close to full employment

On June 6, 2017, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – May 2017 – which showed that total non-farm employment from the payroll survey rose by just 138,000 in May. While the payroll data confirms an on-going deterioration in job creation, an examination of the Labour Force Survey data presents an even worse picture. The official unemployment rate fell from 4.4 per cent to 4.3 per cent, the lowest rate since May 2001. But the fall in unemployment of some 195 thousand persons was not a sign of strength. Total employment fell by 233 thousand but was a smaller decline than experienced by the labour force (down 429 thousand) on the back of a fall in the participation rate (0.2 percentage points). In other words, hidden unemployment rose while official unemployment fell as workers gave up looking for work in the face of declining employment growth. The estimate of employment change from the Labour Force Survey was also positive (156 thousand net jobs added). There is still a large jobs deficit remaining and other indicators suggest the labour market is still below where it was prior to the crisis. Which makes the claims by a number of analysts that the US jobs market is so strong that inflation is about to accelerate on the back of wages growth (which at present is largely non-existent). In other words, there are many assessments that the unemployment rate has reached the so-called NAIRU (Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment) below which accelerating inflation becomes inevitable. I doubt that assessment.
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    Posted in Labour Force, US economy | 8 Comments

    The Weekend Quiz – June 10-11, 2017 – answers and discussion

    Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.
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      The Weekend Quiz – June 10-11, 2017

      Welcome to The Weekend Quiz, which used to be known as the Saturday Quiz! The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blogs I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
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        Posted in Saturday quiz | 1 Comment

        Extremely worrying income shifts towards profits – a repeating destructive phenomenon

        This is an extension of yesterday’s blog on the Australian national accounts release (Australian economy was slowing fast in March-quarter 2017 and outlook negative and delves further into the income side of the results, which are, frankly, stunning. They also accord with general global trends which I have written about in the past, which are creating further income inequality and damaging stable damaging growth prospects. Yesterday’s data confirmed that over the last two quarters (at least) almost all of the income growth has been captured by profits, with real wages and salaries actually falling in the March-quarter 2017. No wonder the growth in consumption spending fell away in the first part of 2017. Does that matter? Well, a rise in the profit share undermines consumption spending. If consumption spending is weak, the opportunities for profitable investment in new productive capital decline. Economies that are growing strongly provide a fertile environment for private investment. Austerity-ridden economies undermine private investment. Economies where consumption is falling due to real wage suppression also do not provide a buoyant investment climate. Flat wages growth in Australia has seen the saving ratio fall back towards zero and households take on ever more debt burdens. The Household debt to disposable income ratio is now at record levels. The declining wage share and the resulting credit binge in many nations were clearly causal in creating the global financial crisis. The mainstream economists believed that the markets were efficient and that there would be no problems with placing an increasing proportion of real income into the hands of the Casino economy. They were wrong. And with the same trends now repeating – they will be wrong again.

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          Posted in Labour costs, National Accounts | 10 Comments

          Australian economy was slowing fast in March-quarter 2017 and outlook negative

          Last week, we learned that private new capital expenditure had risen by 0.3 per cent in the March quarter but was still 9.3 per cent down on the March-quarter 2016 outcome. The forward-looking estimates for 2017-18 have also improved somewhat but still lies well below the expected outcome at the end of June 2017. So, perhaps the massive decline in private investment spending is abating somewhat. In the December-quarter 2016 National Accounts release, the ABS estimated that Today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics real GDP had risen by a strong 1.1 per cent which followed a negative 0.5 per cent outcome in the September-quarter 2016. The results were driven by strong household consumption growth (even as wages growth was negative), public investment and net exports (on the back of a massive shift upwards in the terms of trade). I said at the time that it was doubtful this was setting a new trend away from the sluggish growth that Australia had fallen into in recent years as a result of declining private investment and a government intent on austerity. And that assessment proved to be accurate when the ABS released the – March-quarter 2017 National Accounts data – today, which showed that real GDP had risen by just 0.3 per cent in the March-quarter 2017. Annual growth (last four quarters) was just 1.7 per cent around half the trend rate before the GFC. Net exports undermined growth by 0.7 percentage points, despite the improved terms of trade. Inventory accumulation added 0.4 percentage points, which indicates how unstable the growth profile was earlier in the year. Private and public consumption expenditure contributed 0.5 points, although the household saving ratio fell again indicating the tenuous nature of private consumption expenditure. Remember that the National Accounts are a rear-view mirror of where the economy was 3 months ago. But the overall trend is not terribly optimistic, especially with the government intent on cutting back its contribution to growth in the coming year.
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            Posted in National Accounts | 3 Comments

            Australia’s minimum wage rises – but not sufficient to end working poverty

            Today, the Australian Fair Work Commission (FWC), which is a judicial institution charged with setting minimum wages and conditions announced the outcome of their – Annual Wage Review – 2016-17. The FWC decided to lift the National Minimum wage by 3.3 per cent over the next year at a time when the inflation rate is running around 2.1 per cent. In other words, the lowest-paid workers are finally get a a much-needed real wage increase when other workers (on higher wages) are experiencing record low wages growth and real wage cuts. For years, the relatively between those on minimum wages and those on average earnings has been increasing as the low-paid have been forced to endure regular real wage cuts. In the last year or so that position has reversed as the non-minimum wage workers have been forced to endure record low wage increases and in recent quarters real wage cuts and the FWC has awarded modest real wage increases to the minimum wage workers. However, while today’s decision provides for some real wage growth for the lowest paid workers it is hardly anything to write home about, and, in the words of the FWC itself, not sufficient to lift the minimum wage workers who are experiencing working poverty out of that state. Life for low-wage workers in Australia is tough and would be much tougher if there were not enforced regulations to stop the capitalists from taking more and dishing out capricious treatment to the workers.
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              Posted in Labour costs | 2 Comments

              Being lectured about the problem by those who created the problem

              There are many examples of high profile players in the political arena trying to revise history and reinvent themselves to suit the new climate they are operating in. Tony Blair is a notable example in recent months where he sought to influence the upcoming British election by casting aspersions on the current Labour Party leadership. His past record is so abysmal that anyone in their right mind would just go away and stay silent. But this sort of person – the revisionist reinventers – have a thick hide and a sense of entitlement that most of us couldn’t imagine. I read an article in the American Prospect magazine last week (June 1, 2017) – The Democrats’ ‘Working-Class Problem’ – written by Stanley B. Greenberg, an American pollster who “works with center-left political parties in the United States and abroad” and so claims to have insights into why people vote the way they do. This was a classic example of being lectured about a problem when the lecturer is himself part of the problem but, seemingly, fails to see that.
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                Posted in Fiscal Statements, Framing and Language, US economy | 17 Comments

                The Weekend Quiz – June 3-4, 2017 – answers and discussion

                Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.
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                  The Weekend Quiz – June 3-4, 2017

                  Welcome to The Weekend Quiz, which used to be known as the Saturday Quiz! The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention or not to the blogs I post. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
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                    A credit rating agency spinning its usual nonsense

                    There is a lot of talk among the economics journalists about the impending collapse of China, apparently drowning in mountains of unsustainable debt. Don’t hold your breath. The Chinese government fully understands its capacity as the monopoly issuer of its currency and demonstrated during the GFC how to effectively deploy that capacity. That doesn’t mean that the Chinese economy might record slower growth in the period ahead – but as Japan demonstrated in the 1990s after it experienced a massive property bubble burst – slower growth is not collapse. Appropriate use of fiscal policy can always prevent collapse if there is a will to do so. Further, Australia’s net foreign debt has risen significantly over the last few decades and now exceeds $A1 trillion. Most of it is non-government and the private banks have been at the forefront of the increase as they have been racking up loans from foreign wholesale funding markets. With China slowing, there is a possibility that the conditions for servicing these private loans may deteriorate. A chief of a credit rating agency (S&P) has been getting airplay in Australia the last few days claiming that this increased vulnerability arising from the foreign debt exposure requires the federal government to get into surplus as quickly as possible to provide it with the capacity to “absorb shocks” arising from a correction in the banking sector. His insights are nonsensical. Exactly the opposite is the case.
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                      Posted in Central banking, Economics, Fiscal Statements | 13 Comments