Today, the US Labor Department reported that its survey of employers indicates the economy added 166,000 payroll jobs in October, after posting a 96,000 gain in September.
|Peter Morici is an economist and professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He is a recognized expert on international economics, industrial policy and macroeconomics. Prior to joining the university, he served as director of the Office of Economics at the US International Trade Commission. |
Conflicting with this positive news, the Labor Department also reported that its household survey, which includes the self-employed, showed employment dropping by 250,000 in October, after rising 463,000 in September. Such wild and inconsistent swings in data, cast a long shadow on the reliability of both surveys.
The grip of the mortgage crisis and housing adjustment are apparent in the important and high paying construction and manufacturing sectors.
Construction shed 5,000 jobs, reflecting continuing weakness in the residential construction.
Manufacturing lost 21,000 jobs, despite the much advertised surge in exports. The troubles of the Big Three automakers and imports of consumer goods from China head the list of causes. The housing crisis drags on the important truck market. Imports from China continue strong, because Beijing has doubled purchases of dollars and other currencies in foreign exchange markets to hold down an increasingly undervalued yuan. Those purchases are now about 16 percent of China’s GDP and 45 percent of its exports.Consumers are trimming spending. Rising gasoline prices and falling home prices are eroding consumer confidence. Businesses are becoming skeptical about growth prospects in the domestic market, and exports offer the greatest hope generally only for the large multinationals and diversified financial institutions.
Japan, Brazil, Russia, and several other Asian economies follow similar currency strategies, frustrating efforts to undo global trade imbalances, significantly reduce the U.S. trade deficit, and restore some 2 million U.S. manufacturing jobs lost to currency manipulation and trade protectionism over the last seven years.
The economy will likely grow at 1.5 to 2 percent in the fourth quarter but could easily slip into a recession.
The unemployment rate was steady at 4.7 percent in October, unchanged from September. However, these numbers belie more fundamental weakness in the job market. Many more adults are sitting on the sidelines, neither working nor looking for work, than at the beginning of the decade.
In September another 465,000 adults chose not to participate in the labor force, and since February 2000, that number has increased by more than 10 million. Factoring in these workers raises the effective unemployment rate to about 6.6 percent.
Wages increased a moderate three cents per hour, or 0.2 percent in October. Moderate wage and labor productivity growth should help keep core inflation in check, and this should help abate Federal Reserve concerns about core inflation, as it navigates the fallout from the subprime and housing crises.
Rising energy and commodity prices do threaten to reignite inflation; however, with wages unlikely to set off an inflation spiral, the Federal Reserve should focus on restoring stability to credit markets and the housing industry.
Unfortunately, this week’s Fed statement inferred that it is through cutting interest rates. This only served to further destabilize credit, stock and housing markets, and negate the potential positive effects of its quarter point reduction in the federal funds rate.
Through this statement, Ben Bernanke reversed his recent expressions of concern about the consequences of the housing crisis for the broader economy. This was a dramatic flip flop and serves to seriously undermine his credibility.
The increasing risk of recession will grow and pressure the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates further in December.
The threat of recession does not emanate from some internal clock in the economy, as it did in the 1950s and 1960s. Rather, the risk at this time comes mainly from a structural crisis in credit markets. This was caused by reckless private credit strategies and ill-conceived federal regulations, and could be addressed by prompt and creative Administration and Fed policies. Some would include greater flexibility for Fannie Mae and other federally chartered banks, and Fed purchases of Treasury securities on the long end of the yield curve to pull down long rates.
The Fed could be more creative and do a lot more, but Bernanke's Fed clearly has trouble thinking outside the box.