“While there will be many economists touting today’s [February 5, 2010] report as some inflection point, and it could well be argued that we are entering some sort of healing phase in the jobs market just by mere virtue of inertia, the reality is that the level of employment today, at 129.5 million, is the exact same level it was in 1999. And, during this 11-year span of Japanese-like labour market stagnation, the working-age population has risen 29 million. Contemplate that for a moment; fully 29 million people competing for the same number of jobs that existed more than a decade ago. That sounds like pretty deflationary stuff from our standpoint.
“Not only that, but consideration must be taken that in 2009, we had a zero policy rate, a $2.2 trillion Fed balance sheet and an epic 10% deficit-to-GDP ratio. You could not have asked for more government stimulus. Yet employment tumbled nearly 5 million in 2009.”
Finally, a very sad chart, courtesy of David. Those in the 25-54 year-old male category have seen their total number of jobs fall back to the level it was in 1996. Fourteen years later, and the “breadwinners” who are supposedly in their prime have seen an almost 10% drop in employment.
As noted above, January employment numbers are very volatile, and are likely to be adjusted either up or down by a lot in coming months. But this report was not the disaster of December. It still shows a very weak economy that certainly does not need a large tax hike next year. I hope we start seeing some positive numbers soon, but I am not optimistic that we are going to see the 200,000-plus new jobs per month we need to really start denting the unemployment numbers, for some time. Not when the National Federation of Independent Business says 71% of small businesses do not plan to hire this year.
The Fed is taking away quantitative easing. Stimulus spending is exiting in the last half of the year. States and communities are having to either raise taxes or cut spending by $350 billion! I heard on the radio coming back from the gym (I think it was my friend Steve Liesman on CNBC) that there are now 55,000 fewer teachers than a few years ago.
And again from the NFIB, small businesses see very tight credit conditions, which makes it hard for them to expand (see chart below). The headlines this week from the Fed banking survey said that banks were prone to be less tight, but the NFIB writers went deep into the report. What they found is that very large banks are willing to be less tight in their lending standards. Smaller banks were in fact not as easy. Loan demand is falling. Consumer credit actually declined slightly in December, after plunging in November. If you can’t count on Americans to buy during Christmas, the world is in fact moving to the New Frugal.
All this is not the stuff that robust recoveries are made of. We drift back into Muddle Through the last half of the year, I think. And if Congress does not act to postpone or mitigate the enormous tax increases due in 2011, we slip back into recession. It will be a policy error of major magnitude to raise taxes with 10% unemployment and a weak economy.
(from TheStreet.com, February 5, 2010)