Expect a Huge Jump in Layoffs in 2016; Eye on Initial Unemployment Claims: Have they Bottomed?

I have a watchful eye on initial unemployment claims. They have been trending higher (unexpectedly of course) since mid-October.

Initial Claims 2015

Econoday economists were surprised by the jump.
Initial jobless claims unexpectedly jumped 20,000 to 287,000 in the December 26 holiday week, the highest level since the July 4 holiday week. The Econoday consensus expected an increase of 3,000 to 270,000. The 4-week moving average was up 4,500 to 277,000 in the December 26 week, the highest since the July 18 week. The level of continuing claims increased 3,000 to 2.198 million in the December 19 week. The seasonally adjusted insured unemployment was unchanged at 1.6 percent in the December 19 week. It should be noted that readings in this report can be volatile during the holiday weeks.
Long-Term Perspective

A long-term chart shows the claims are still at historic lows dating all the way back to the 1970s. Does that imply there is little cause for concern?

Let's look at the chart another way.

That chart shows recessions sometimes start with year-over-year changes still negative and sometimes not. Moreover, there is a tremendous amount of noise as evidenced by huge swings that did not lead to recession.

Low claims in and of themselves are pretty inconclusive even though huge spikes tend to mark recessions.

Where to in 2016?

Jobs have been strong, but some of us believe part-time jobs and Obamacare artifacts have skewed the numbers. Regardless, jobs are a hugely lagging indicator, even if you believe the numbers.

Since there was a burst of seasonal hiring, it stands to reason there will be a burst of seasonal firing.

With corporate profits under pressure from rising wages, and with many big box retailers struggling, upcoming layoffs are likely to be huge.

Recent PMI reports provide clues as to where things are headed:

Manufacturing is in an outright recession, and services are weakening.  It stands to reason, jobs will follow.

We will find out in the January jobs report, to be released Friday, February 5, 2016.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

CMA CGM- 2015 3rd quarter results

CMA CGM announced their 3rd quarter 2015 results.  The operating profit for 3rd quarter 2015 is
less than the 3rd quarter of 2014.   Here are some details from their web-site.

MD&A 30th of September 2015 versus 30th of September 2014 
 Operating revenue General:
Consolidated operating revenue decreased by USD 408.5 million, or 3.3% from USD 12,509.1 million in the first 9 months of 2014 to USD 12,100.6 million in the first 9 months of 2015 primarily due to a 3.9% decrease in shipping revenue and a 5.3% increase in other activities. Transported volumes increased by 6.5% or 593 thousand TEU, from 9,110 thousand TEU in the first 9 months of 2014 to 9,703 thousand TEU in the first 9 months of 2015. 

click here for link to complete summary

And, from the finance report

            For the nine-month period ended                            For the three-month period ended
                 2015                          2014                             2015                       2014

                1,137.8                      876.4                             243.7                      325.1

As you can see, the first 9 months the profit increased, but for the 3rd quarter is decreased compared\
to 2014.  This does not bode well for end year 2015 results.

click here for link to finance report

Goldman Forecast: "Questions for 2016"

Here are a few excerpts from a piece by Goldman Sachs economists Jan Hatzius and Zach Pandl: "8 Questions for 2016"

On GDP Growth:
We forecast that growth will improve only slightly from its current pace, averaging 2.25% next year.
On Housing:
[W]e see a strong case for a continued recovery in housing starts from about 1.2 million currently to 1.4-1.5 million over the next few years—even without a major easing in lending standards or a rebound in the headship rate of young adults ... we expect that 2016 will mark the end of the post-crisis housing market in several respects. We forecast that the rebound in house prices will slow, that single-family construction will account for a rising share of new housing starts, and that the homeownership rate will finally stabilize.
On Fed hikes:
[A] standard policy rule coupled with the Fed's economic projections (or our own) calls for a roughly 125bp increase in the funds rate by end-2016. While the FOMC's preference for a "gradual" path of hikes suggests that four is most likely, the economic case for the full 100bp implied by the Summary of Economic Projections (SEP) is strong.

Chicago PMI Crashes, New Orders and Backlogs Plunge to May 2009 Level; Service Economy Headed for a Slowdown?

The Unexpected Strikes Chicago Again

It was another disastrous month for the Chicago PMI. Economists expected a bounce back from last month's unexpected dip into negative territory. Instead the numbers reflect what's best described as a two-month crash.

The Econoday Consensus Estimate was a guess of 50 in a range of 48 to 53. The actual reading of 42.9 was far below any economist's estimate.
The December Chicago PMI tumbled to a reading of just 42.9, down 5.8 points. The reading was a fresh 6-1/2 year low and the seventh contraction this year. It also was far below expectations of a breakeven reading of 50.

The biggest contributor to the decline was a 17.2 point plunge in order backlogs, to 29.4, marking their eleventh consecutive month in contraction. December's reading was the lowest since May 2009. The index also was depressed by ongoing weakness in new orders, which contracted at a faster pace, down 5.3 points to 38.8, the lowest level since May 2009. Both production and employment fell into contraction.

The only component to expand at a faster pace was supplier deliveries, although some companies noted that the rise was influenced more by logistics issues during the holiday season and in preparation for Chinese New Year on February 8. The PMI continued to feel the ill effects of general sluggish demand and lower energy prices, which have left their mark on Chicago area companies, along with the stronger U.S. dollar. Moreover, well above normal temperatures has impacted many businesses that rely on cold weather.
Ahead of the release this is what Econoday had to say:
The Chicago PMI is a one of a kind, a regional report that tracks the whole scope of the economy, at least for Chicago. Big swings are the norm but one isn't expected for December with the consensus calling for what would be a small 1.3 point gain for this index to dead even 50, which is about where this index has been trending.
Chicago PMI Index vs. ISM

It does not appear to me the index has been trending around 50 as Bloomberg suggests. The three jumps above 50 are counter-trend in a series that has been weakening for about a year.

Service Economy Headed for a Slowdown?

The Chicago PMI is a bit different because it contains a mix of both manufacturing and service companies. That makes matters worse given economists generally consider the service economy to be in good shape.

Last month when the PMI dipped for the 6th time in 10 months (now 7th time in 11 months), I asked the question Service Economy Headed for a Slowdown?

Here is the pertinent snip: 
Bloomberg proposes the volatility of the report should limit its impact on the month's outlook.

I suggest volatility is a sign of a trend change as well as underlying weakness. And the backlog of orders, one place where there has been consistent contraction for 10 months, does not bode well for future hiring needs.

All things considered, the Chicago PMI is a warning that the service economy may be on its last legs.
Reflections on the Weather

This month, Bloomberg relies on the old standby: the weather.

Damn that weather. It's always too hot, too cold, or too right. This month it was too pleasant.

Heading into the reports, it's pretty clear the economists did not know the Chicago weather was too good, otherwise they would have lowered their forecasts.

Economists only learned Chicago's weather was too good following the PMI release today. Amazingly, economists don't even know about massive snowstorms until economic reports come out weeks later.

Sorry State of Chicago

Weakening services coupled with the biggest property tax hike in history will not do wonders for the Chicago economy.

For more on the sorry state of affairs in Chicago and the state of Illinois as a whole, please see ...

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

‚Beating a Dead Robotic Horse‘

Dietz Vollrath:

Beating a Dead Robotic Horse: One of the recurring themes on this blog has been the consequences of robots, AI, or rapid technological change on labor demand. Will humans be put out of work by robots, and will this mean paradise or destitution? I’ve generally argued that we should be optimistic about robots and AI and the like, but others have made coherent arguments for pessimism. I spent a chunk of this week reading over posts, both new and old, and thinking more about these positions.

If there is one distinct difference between the robo-pessimist and robo-optimist view, it is almost exclusively down to timing. The pessimists are worried that the rapid decline of human labor is occurring now, and in many cases has been occurring for a while already. The optimists believe that we have time in front of us to sort things out before human labor is replaced en masse.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee‘s latest is a good example of this robo-optimist view. They concede that human labor is in danger of being replaced... But at the same time they do not think this is imminent...

On the robo-pessimism side, Richard Serlin has a mega-post about the declining prospects for human labor and the possible consequences. What is interesting about Richard’s post is that he essentially makes the case that the replacement of human labor by automation has been occurring for decades; we are already living with it...

I think it is helpful to get beyond the binary viewpoints. ...

I tend to be a weak robo-optimist. I, like Brynjolfsson and McAfee, completely agree that robots/AI will create a drag on the demand for human labor, and in particular unskilled labor. My robo-optimism isn’t a belief about technology. It is a belief that we can figure out how to manage the glide path towards shorter work hours while maintaining living standards for everyone. It’s a good thing that we’ll have to work less.

And there remains a little piece of strong robo-optimism lurking inside of me. I don’t think work less is really well defined. We will likely have to spend less time working for wages to afford the basic material goods in our lives. But that doesn’t mean we won’t spend lots of our time “working” for each other doing other things. Whether that work is paid in wages or not is immaterial.

[There's quite a bit more in the post that I left out.]

Question #7 for 2016: What about oil prices in 2016?

Over the weekend, I posted some questions for next year: Ten Economic Questions for 2016. I'll try to add some thoughts, and maybe some predictions for each question.

Here is a review of the Ten Economic Questions for 2015.

7) Oil Prices: The decline in oil prices was a huge story at the end of 2014, and prices have declined sharply again at the end of 2015.  Will oil prices stabilize here (WTI is at $38 per barrel)?  Or will prices decline further?  Or will prices increase in 2016?

First, Josh Zumbrun at the WSJ has a review of 2015 forecasts compared to what actually happened: What Economic Forecasters Got Right, and Wrong, in 2015
Crude Oil

Average forecast for December 2015: $63/barrel
Actual as of December 29: about $38/barrel

None of the forecasters in the survey saw the price of oil being below $40 this month. Throughout the year, economists have continued to forecast that oil prices would regain some of their lost ground and have been continually disappointed.
Forecasters did a poor job on oil prices (including me).  Oil prices are difficult to predict with all the supply and demand factors.

The reason prices have fallen sharply is supply and demand. It is important to remember that the short term supply and demand curves for oil are very steep. 

In the long run, supply and demand will adjust to price changes.  But if someone asks why prices have fallen so sharply recently, the answer is "supply and demand" and that the short term supply and demand curves are steep for oil.

As I noted last year, the keys on the short term demand side have been the ongoing weakness in Europe and the slowdown in China.   There has been an increase in demand in the US, but that has been more than offset by global weakness.  Will Europe recovery in 2016? Will China's growth increase? Right now it looks like more of the same, so I expect the demand side to stay weak again in 2016.

The supply side is even more difficult.  There are volatile regions that have increased supply, such as from Libya and Iraq.  And there will be more supply from Iran in 2016.  Will be there be a 2016 supply disruption in Libya, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, or some other oil exporting country?  That is a key geopolitical question.

And what about tight oil production in 2016?   At the current price, it would seem fracking would be uneconomical for new wells (existing wells will continue to produce).  We've seen some decline in US oil production, but the decline in supply has been fairly small.  As an example, production in North Dakota peaked at 38.1 million barrels in December 2015, and is only down to 34.6 million barrels in September.

It is impossible to predict an international supply disruption, however if a significant disruption happens, then prices will move higher. Continued weakness in Europe and China seems likely, however sluggish demand will be somewhat offset by less tight oil production.  It seems like the key oil producers (Saudi, etc) will continue production at current levels.  This suggests in the short run (2016) that prices will stay low, but probably move up a little in 2016.  I'll guess WTI will be up from the current price by December 2016 (but still under $50 per barrel).

Here are the Ten Economic Questions for 2016 and a few predictions:
Question #5 for 2016: Will the Fed raise rates in 2016, and if so, by how much?
Question #6 for 2016: Will real wages increase in 2016?
Question #7 for 2016: What about oil prices in 2016?
Question #8 for 2016: How much will Residential Investment increase?
Question #9 for 2016: What will happen with house prices in 2016?
Question #10 for 2016: How much will housing inventory increase in 2016?

MOAR Musings on the Current Episteme of the Federal Reserve…: The Honest Broker for January 4, 2016

Paul Krugman's Respectable Radicalism politely points out (at least) one dimension along which I am a moron.

Let me back up: Here in the United States, the current framework for macroeconomic policy holds that the economy is nearly normalized, that further extraordinary expansionary and fiscal policy moves carry "risks", and that as a result the right policy is stay-the-course. I was arguing that the Economist Left Opposition demand--for substantially more expansionary monetary and fiscal policies right now until we see the whites of the eyes of rising inflatio--was soundly-based in orthodox lowbrow Hicks-Patinkin-Tobin macro theory. That is the macro theory that economists like Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen, and Stan Fischer taught their entire academic careers.

Paul Krugman points out—politely—that I am wrong.

The Economist Left Opposition framework contains at least one claim that is substantially non-orthodox: We claim that worries about the debt accumulation from expansionary fiscal policy right now are profoundly misguided. Under current conditions, the government's borrowing money or printing money and buying stuff does not raise but lowers the debt-to-annual-GDP ratio. However large you think the influence of an outstanding debt burden on interest rates happens to be, interest rates in the future will be lower, the debt as a multiple of annual GDP will be lower, and thus the debt financing burden and all debt-related risks will be lower in the future with a more expansionary fiscal policy than baseline. This is definitely nonstandard. And it is embarrassing to note that this is my idea--or, rather, Larry Summers and I were the ones who did the arithmetic to show how topsy-turvy the macroeconomic world currently is with respect the fiscal policy. This was a really smart thing for us to do. And it is definitely not part of the standard orthodox policy-theory framework in the way that the rest of the Hicks-Patinkin Economist Left Opposition framework is.

As Paul writes:

Paul Krugman: [Respectable Radicalism][1]: "Hysteresis [in the context of very low interest rates]... is indeed a departure from standard models...

...But the [rest, the] case that the risks of hiking too soon and too late are deeply asymmetric comes right out of IS-LM with a zero lower bound... the framework I used....

Being an official... can create a conviction that you and your colleagues know more than is in the textbooks.... But... [at the] zero-lower-bound... world nobody not Japanese [had] experienced for three generations, theory and history are much more important than market savvy. I would have expected current Fed management to understand that; but apparently not.

I wrote about Rawls's reflective equilibrium idea yesterday, so let me just cut and paste: Are models properly idea-generating machines, in which you start from what you think is the case and use the model-building process to generate new insights? Or are models merely filing systems--ways of organizing your beliefs, and whenever you find that your model is leading you to a surprising conclusion that you find distasteful the proper response is to ignore the model, or to tweak it to make the distasteful conclusion go away?

Both can be effectively critiqued. Models-as-discovery-mechanisms suffer from the Polya-Robertson problem: It involves replacing what he calls "plausible reasoning", where models are there to assist thinking, with what he calls "demonstrative reasoning". in which the model itself becomes the object of analysis. The box that is the model is well described but, as Dennis Robertson warned,there is no reason to think that the box contains anything real. Models-as-filing-systems are often used like a drunk uses a lamp post: more for support than illumination.

In the real world, it is, of course, the case that models are both: both filing systems and discovery mechanisms. Coherent and productive thought is, as the late John Rawls used to say, always a process of reflective equilibrium--in which the trinity of assumptions, modes of reasoning, and conclusions are all three revised and adjusted under the requirement of coherence until a maximum level of comfort with all three is reached. The question is always one of balance.

What I think Paul Krugman may be missing here is how difficult it is to, as Keynes wrote:

The composition of this book has been for the author a long struggle of escape... from habitual modes of thought and expression. The ideas which are here expressed so laboriously are extremely simple and should be obvious. The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds...

In this case, the old ideas with respect to the budget deficit are those of various versions of fiscal crisis and fiscal price level theory developed largely out of analysis of Latin American and southern European experience, and those of various versions of monetarist theory based upon the experience of the 1970s. How difficult this is is illustrated by one fact I find interesting about Paul Krugman (1999): Back then, his analysis of the liquidity trap and fiscal policy back in 1999 was... very close to Ken Rogoff's analysis of the liquidity trap and fiscal policy today:

Paul Krugman (1999): Thinking About the Liquidity Trap, Journal of the Japanese and International Economies 14:4 (December), pp. 221–237: "The story... [of] self-fulfilling pessimism is... a multiple equilibrium story...

...with the liquidity trap corresponding to the low-level equilibrium.... Over some range spending rises more than one-for-one with income. (Why should the relationship flatten out at high and low levels? At high levels resource constraints begin to bind; at low levels the obvious point is that gross investment hits its own zero constraint. There is a largely forgotten literature on this sort of issue, including Hicks (194?), Goodwin (194?), and Tobin (1947)).... Thinking about the liquidity trap

Multiple equilibria... allow for permanent (or anyway long-lived) effects from temporary policies. There may be excess desired savings even at a zero real interest rate given the pessimism that now prevails... but if some policy could push the economy to a high level of output for long enough to change those expectations, the policy would not have to be maintained.... Balance-sheet problems... may involve an element of self-fulfilling slump: a firm that looks insolvent with an output gap of 10 percent might be reasonably healthy at full employment....

'Pump-priming' fiscal policy is the conventional answer to a liquidity trap.... In either the IS-LM model or a more sophisticated intertemporal model fiscal expansion will indeed offer short-run relief.... So why not consider the problem solved? The answer hinges on the government’s own budget constraint....

Ricardian equivalence... is not the crucial issue.... Real purchases... will still create employment.... (In a fully Ricardian setup the multiplier on government consumption will be exactly 1)....

The problem instead is that deficit spending does lead to a large government debt, which will if large enough start to raise questions about solvency. One might ask why government debt matters if the interest rate is zero.... But the liquidity trap, at least in the version I take seriously, is not... permanent.... [When] the natural rate of interest... turn[s] positive... the inherited debt will indeed be a problem....

Fiscal policy [is] a temporary expedient that cannot serve as a solution [unless]....

First, if the liquidity trap is short-lived... fiscal policy can serve as a bridge... after [which]... monetary policy will again be able to shoulder the load... a severe but probably short-lived financial crisis in trading partners... breathing space during which firms get their balance sheets in order....

[Second, if] it will jolt the economy into a higher equilibrium.... If this is the underlying model... one must realize that the criterion for success is quite strong.... Fiscal expansion... must lead to... increases in private demand so large that the economy begins a self-sustaining process of recovery....

None of this should be read as a reason to abandon fiscal stimulus.... But fiscal stimulus... [is only] a way of buying time... [absent] assumptions that are at the very least rather speculative...

Since 1999, Paul has changed his mind. He has become an aggressive advocate of expansionary fiscal policy as the preferred solution. Why? And is he right to have done so? Or should he have stuck to his 1999 position, and should he still be lining up with Ken today?

One part of the reason, I think, is--and I say this with whatever modesty I have ever had still intact--that DeLong and Summers (2012) has provided one of the very very few additions of conceptual value-added to Krugman (1999). We pointed out that with a modest degree of "secular stagnation"--a modest fall in safe real interest rates over the long run--and a slight degree of hysteresis, fiscal expansion in a liquidity trap does not worsen but improves the long-run fiscal balance of an economy in a liquidity trap. This was something that Krugman missed in 1999. It is something that people like Rogoff continue to miss today.

This has consequences: The more scared you are of some long-run collapse of the currency from excessive government debt relative to annual GDP, the stronger you should advocate for more expansionary fiscal policy when the economy is in a liquidity trap. The more you think that real interest rates in the long run are coupled to high values of government debt relative to annual GDP, the stronger you should advocate for more expansionary fiscal policy when the economy is in a liquidity trap. The more you worry about debt crowding-out useful and productive government spending in the long run, the stronger you should advocate for more expansionary fiscal policy when the economy is in a liquidity trap. This whole line of thought, however, was absent from Krugman (1999), and is absent from Rogoff and company today.

A second part of the reason is that even modest "secular stagnation" does more than (with even a slight degree of hysteresis) reverse the sign on the relationship between fiscal expansion today and long-run government-debt burdens. It also undermines the effectiveness of monetary policy as an alternative to fiscal policy. Monetary expansion--in the present or the future--needs a post-liquidity trap interest-rate "normalization" environment to have the purchase to raise the future price level that it needs to be effective in stimulating production now. Secular stagnation removes or delays or attenuates that normalization.

Third comes the credibility problem. Back in the days of Krugman (1999), he at least had little doubt that a central bank that understood the situation would want to generate the expected inflation needed. That was the way to create a configuration of relative prices consistent with full employment. That was what a competent central bank would wish to do. And a central bank that wished to create expectations of higher inflation would have a very easy time doing so.

The mixed success of Abenomics, however, has cast doubt on the second of these—on the ability of central banks to easily generate higher expected inflation. Japan today appears to be having a significantly harder time generating expectations of inflation than I had presumed. And

With respect to the first—the desire to create higher expected inflation—Ben Bernanke, while chairman of the Federal Reserve, repeatedly declared that quantitative easing policies were not intended to produce any breach of the 2% per year inflation target upward. These declarations were not something that I expected, and were not something that I understood. They still leave me profoundly puzzled.

Fourth, there is a sense in which Paul has not shifted that much. Look at his analysis of Japan today. In his view, fiscal expansion today is needed to create the actual inflation today that will (i) raise the needle on future expected inflation, and so (ii) allow for a shift to policies that (iii) will amortize rather than grow the national debt. Inflation someday generated by the fiscal theory of the price level and high future interest rates generated by the risks of debt accumulation still have their places in his thought.

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