The BLS Employment Situation Summary for November 2013

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 9th, 2013

Economics 101

There was Much Spending in November where People Gathered to Celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday

The Bureau of Labor Statistics November’s Employment Situation Summary is out.  The government is trumpeting the 203,000 jobs created and the fall in the unemployment rate from 7.3% in October to 7.0%.  Proof they say that the economy is turning around.  And that their economic policies are working.  So everything is coming up roses.  If you stop reading the Employment Situation Summary there, that is.  For if you read further the economy is still horrible.

A big part of this improvement was the furloughed federal workers returning to work after the government shutdown.  And the Thanksgiving Holiday.  With retail hiring seasonal employees and stocking their shelves for the kick off of the Christmas shopping season.  This year starting on Thanksgiving Day for many retailers.  So you would expect a gain in employment connected to the Christmas shopping season.  Which there has been.  Retail trade employment added 22,000 jobs.  And leisure and hospitality, employment in food services and drinking places added 18,000 jobs.  And air transportation added 3,000 jobs.  Thanks to the biggest travel day of the year falling in November.

So there was much spending where people gathered with friends and family to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.  And the mad rush to the stores to begin their Christmas shopping.  There was much traveling, shopping and dining in November.  As there always is.  Though some years are better than others.  There was also new hiring in the automobile and construction industries.  Probably more due to the near-zero interest rates thanks to the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing.  Basically printing money to drive down interest rates.  To encourage people to buy big ticket items like cars and houses.  Even though they had no plans to do so.

It is only the Decline in the Number of People in the Labor Force that gives us an Improving Unemployment Rate

So new jobs in these areas don’t reflect on the overall economic climate.  Because once Christmas is over business will lay off those they hired for those seasonal jobs.  And once the Federal Reserve stops ‘printing money’ those interest rates will rise.  Perhaps compounded by runaway inflation from so much printing.  So these aren’t good indicators of the economy.  We can gain a better understanding by looking at the higher stages of production.  Where there are large capital outlays required to hire and expand business.  Industries that look at the long-term.  So if they’re not hiring they’re not optimistic about the long-term economic picture.

A lot of economic activity has to happen before a retail store can sell anything.  Raw material industries have to pull resources out of the environment.  Industrial processors have to transform these raw materials so manufacturers can use them.  And once manufacturers build things wholesalers buy them and resell them to retailers.  That’s a lot of costs these industries have to incur to produce things that may sell 6-9 months later.  Or longer.  And if the economy is looking anemic to them they are not going to incur these costs.  Which is what happened in November with some of these higher stages of production.  Mining, logging and wholesale trade showed little to no change.

The civilian labor force declined by 720,000 in October.  With the government shutdown blamed for a lot of these lost jobs.  So when the government opened for business again in November we should have seen a large increase in the civilian labor force.  But we didn’t.  The civilian labor force only increased by 455,000 in November.  Which means that if you factor out the government shutdown there was still a decline in the number of jobs.  And it is only this decline in the number of people in the labor force that gives us an improving unemployment rate.  For once people give up and quit looking for a job because the economy is so bad the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stops counting them.  Skewing the real unemployment rate.

The Current Economic Recovery is a False One created with the Smoke and Mirrors of Low Interest Rates

This gets to the crux of the Obama economic recovery.  Or, rather, the absence of any recovery.  The government trumpets the creation of 195,000 new jobs per month this year.  But they don’t tell us how many jobs we lost per month this year.  Which we can calculate.  In January of this year there were 89,009,000 people not in the labor force.  In November that number rose to 91,273,000.  A total loss of 2,265,000 jobs this year.  Or a loss of 205,909 each month.  So while they cheerfully report the creation of 195,000 new jobs per month we actually lost 205,909 jobs each month.  If you count those people who left the labor force the BLS doesn’t count when calculating the unemployment rate.  In fact, if you look at the trends this year you can see the trends are going in the wrong direction.

Those in Labor Force vs Unemployment Rate thru November 2013 R1

The most shocking thing about this chart is that there are over 91 million people not in the labor force.  The labor force is the sum of the employed and unemployed persons.  So these are people who could be in the labor force but aren’t.  Because they don’t have a job.  For whatever reason.  On welfare, collecting disability, early retirement, just can’t get a job because the economy is so bad, etc.  So there will always be people out of the labor force.  And a large number is bad.  Because these people aren’t helping to create economic activity.  Which is why the Obama recovery is so anemic.

What’s also shocking about this chart are the trends.  The official unemployment rate has been falling.  Good news, yes?  Well, as it turns out, no.  Because the number of people not in the labor force has been rising during the decline in the unemployment rate.  Making the unemployment numbers questionable at best.  For you can’t have less unemployment if people continue to leave the workforce because they can’t get a job.  And the employment picture isn’t getting better.  It’s getting worse.  And it’s going to keep getting worse until those higher stages of production start hiring.  Which they won’t do until they see a real economic recovery.  And not a false one created with the smoke and mirrors of low interest rates.

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Inventory to Sales Ratio and Labor Force Participation Rate (1992-2013)

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 12th, 2013

History 101

Just-in-Time Delivery lowers Inventory Costs but risks Manufacturing Interruptions

Carrying a large inventory is costly.  And risky.  First of all you have to warehouse it.  In a secured heated (and sometimes cooled) building.  With a fire alarm system.  A fire suppression (i.e., sprinkler) system.  A security alarm system.  You need lighting.  And people.  Safety training.  Safety equipment.  Forklifts.  Loading docks.  Delivery trucks.  Insurances.  Property taxes (real and personal).  Utilities.  Telephone and Internet.  A computer inventory system.  Etc.  It adds up.  And the larger the inventory the larger the cost.

Then there are the risks.  Fire damage.  Theft.  Water damage (say from a fire suppression line that freezes during the winter because some kid broke a window to let freezing air in that froze the water inside the sprinkler line with the expanding ice breaking the pipe and allowing water to flow out of the pipe onto your inventory).  Shrinkage (things that disappear but weren’t sold).  Damaged goods (say a forklift operator accidentally backed into a shelve full of plasma displays).  Shifts in consumer demand (what was once hot may not be hot anymore which is a costly problem when you have a warehouse full of that stuff).  Etc.  And the larger the inventory the greater the risks.

In the latter half of the 20th century a new term entered the business lexicon.  Just-in-time delivery.  Or JIT for short.  Instead of warehousing material needed for manufacturing manufacturers turned to JIT.  And tight schedules.  They bought what they needed as they needed it.  Having it arrive just as it was needed in the manufacturing process.  JIT greatly cut costs.  But it allowed any interruption in those just-in-time deliveries shut down manufacturing.  As there was no inventory to feed manufacturing if a delivery did not arrive just in time.

A Rising Inventory to Sales Ratio means Inventory is Growing Larger or Sales are Falling

There are many financial ratios we use to judge how well a business is performing.  One of them is the inventory to sales ratio.  Which is the inventory on hand divided by the sales that inventory generated.  If this number equals ‘1’ then the inventory on hand for a given period is sold before that period is up.  Which would be very efficient inventory management.  Unless a lot of sales were lost because some things were out of stock because so few of them were in inventory.

Ideally managers would like this number to be ‘1’.  For that would have the lowest cost of carrying inventory.  If you sold one item 4 times a month you could add one to inventory each week to replace the one sold that week.  That would be very efficient.  Unless four people want to buy this item in the same week.  Which means instead of selling 4 of these items you will probably only sell one.  For the other three people may just go to a different store that does have it in stock.  So it is a judgment call.  You have to carry more than you may sell because people don’t come in at evenly spaced intervals to buy things.

We can look at the inventory to sales ratio for the general economy over time to note trends.  A falling ratio is generally good.  For it shows inventories growing as a lesser rate than sales.  Meaning that businesses are getting more sales out of reduced inventory levels.  Which means more profits.  A flat trend could mean that businesses are operating at peak efficiency.  Or they are treading water due to uncertainty in the business climate. Doing the minimum to meet their current demand.  But not growing because there is too much uncertainty in the air.  A rising ratio is not good.  For the only way for that to happen is if inventory is growing larger.  Sales are falling.  Or both.

The Labor Force Participation Rate has been in a Freefall since President Obama took Office

When inventories start rising it is typically because sales are falling.  Businesses are making their usually buys to restock inventory.  Only people aren’t buying as much as they once were.  So with people buying less sales fall and inventories grow.  Rising inventories are often an indicator of a recession.  As unemployment rises there are fewer people going to stores to buy things.  So sales fall.  After a period or two of this when businesses see that falling sales was not just an aberration for one period but a sign of worse economic times to come they cut back their buying.  Draw down their inventories.  And lay off some workers to adjust for the weaker demand.  As they do their suppliers see a fall in their sales and do likewise.  All the way up the stages of production to raw material extraction. 

Retailers typically carry larger inventories than wholesalers or manufacturers.  To try and accommodate their diverse customer base.  So when their sales fall and their inventories rise they are left with bulging inventories that are costly to store in a warehouse.  They may start cutting prices to move this inventory.  Or pray for some government help.  Such as low interest rates to get people to buy things even when it may not be in their best interest (for people tend to get laid off in a recession and having a new car payment while unemployed takes a lot of joy out of having a new car).  Or a government stimulus program.  Make-work for the unemployed.  Or even cash benefits the unemployed can spend.  Which will provide a surge in economic activity at the consumer level as retailers and wholesalers unload backed up inventory.  But it rarely creates any new jobs.  Because government stimulus eventually runs out.  And once it does the people will leave the stores again.  So retailers may benefit and to a certain degree wholesalers as they can clear out their inventories.  But manufacturers and raw material extractors adjust to the new reality.  As retail sales fall retailers and wholesalers will need less inventory.  Which means manufacturers and raw material extractors ramp down to adjust to the lower demand.  Cutting their costs so their reduced revenue can cover them.  Which means laying off workers.  We can see this when we look at inventory to sales ratio and the labor force participation rate over time.

(There appears to be a problem with the latest version of this blogging software that is preventing the insertion of this chart into this post.  Please click on this link to see the chart.)

(Sources: Inventories/Sales Ratio, Archived News Releases

Cheap money gave us irrational exuberance and the dot-com bubble in the Nineties.  And a recession in the early 2000s.   Note that the trend during the Nineties was a falling inventory to sales ratio as advanced computer inventory systems tied in over the Internet took inventory management to new heights.  But as the dot-com irrational exuberance came to a head we had a huge dot-com economy that had yet to start selling anything.  As their start-up capital ran out the dot-coms began to go belly-up.  And all those programmers who flooded our colleges in the Nineties to get their computer degrees lost their high paying jobs.  Stock prices fell out of the sky as companies went bankrupt.  Resulting in a bad recession.  The fall in spending can be seen in the uptick in the inventory to sales ratio.  This fall in spending (and rise in inventories) led to a lot of people losing their jobs.  As we can see in the falling labor force participation rate.  The ensuing recession was compounded by the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

Things eventually stabilized but there was more irrational exuberance in the air.  Thanks to a housing policy that put people into houses they couldn’t afford with subprime mortgages.  Which lenders did under threat from the Clinton administration (see Bill Clinton created the Subprime Mortgage Crisis with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending posted 11/6/2011 on Pithocrates).  Note the huge spike in the inventory to sales ratio.  And the free-fall of the labor force participation rate.  Which hasn’t stopped falling since President Obama took office.  Even though the inventory to sales ratio returned to pre-Great Recession levels.  But there is so much uncertainty in the economic outlook that no one is hiring.  They’re just shedding jobs.  Making the Obama economic recovery the worst since that following the Great Depression.

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Big Box Stores going after Mom and Pop Stores again, this time on the Internet

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 12th, 2013

Week in Review

The big box stores put Mom & Pop stores out of business everywhere.  Mom and Pop cried foul.  But the big box stores told them to cry them a river.  This is business.  If you want to play with the big boys then you have to figure out how to stay in business selling at the big boys’ prices.  Which Mom and Pop never could do.  Not with the big box stores’ purchasing power.  And their big box stores and warehouses that can house massive inventories.  When Mom and Pop could only buy a handful of stuff at a time.  Quantities so small they got the worse pricing from their suppliers.  Who could care less if they stopped buying from them.  Because it was the big box stores that kept the suppliers in business.

So the big box stores had a mighty advantage over Mom and Pop.  Some would even say it was unfair.  Even causing people to protest the opening of another big box store in their neighborhoods.  To protect the Mom and Pop stores.  For the people knew the moment a better deal was available they’d leave Mom and Pop and flock to the big box stores.  Where they could get real value for their hard-earned money.  And now the shoe is on the other foot.  And Mom and Pop have found a way to beat the big box stores.  Who are now crying foul (see You’re probably a tax cheat! Even if online stores don’t charge it, you’re supposed to pay it and new law will try to force you by AP Reporter posted 5/5/2013 on the Daily Mail).

Few taxpayers know they’re expected to pay sales tax on online purchases, so a new law likely to pass in Congress Monday will help states force retailers to pay up, thus forcing the retailer to charge its customers tax…

Supporters say the bill is about fairness for local businesses that already collect sales taxes, and lost revenue for states…

Supporters say the bill makes it relatively easy for Internet retailers to comply. States must provide free computer software to help retailers calculate sales taxes, based on where shoppers live. States also must establish a single entity to receive Internet sales tax revenue, so retailers don’t have to send them to individual counties or cities…

‘Complying and living under the tax laws of 50 states is a major undertaking because the process of complying with tax law goes far beyond just filling out the right forms,’ said Brian Bieron, eBay’s senior director of global public policy. ‘You have to deal with the fact that all of these government agencies can audit you and can question you and can actually take you into court and sue you if they think you are doing something wrong.’

Not charging sales tax does not give Mom and Pop an advantage over the big box stores.  It’s not having a brick and mortar store that gives them the advantage.  And not much of a one at that.  For unlike the big box stores everything Mom and Pop sell over the Internet includes something the big box stores don’t.  Postage and handling.  Which can be greater than the sales tax the big box stores adds to their sales.

As far as lost tax revenue for the states?  It is not as bad as they claim.  For instead of sales tax cities and states are generating fuel taxes on the fuel the delivery trucks consume.  They’re generating payroll and income taxes from the delivery truck drivers, the package sorters, the mechanics keeping the trucks on the road, etc.  In addition to the taxes these workers pay they spend what they keep.  Spending it in the local economy.  Where they even take their wages into those big box stores.  Purchase something.  And pay sales tax.

This is real economic activity that Internet sales drive.  Which DOES create a lot of tax revenue in these states.  So this isn’t as much about an unfair tax advantage Internet retailers are getting away with.  It’s about the big box stores who just don’t like the shoe being on the other foot.  So they hope to destroy that competition by putting Mom and Pop under an additional 49 (or more when adding in cities and counties that charge sales tax) tax jurisdictions.  Which will just suck the life out of dear Mom and Pop.  Again.

And it’s a chance for government to suck more wealth out of the private sector to pay for their bloated public sector.  Who are drowning under the weight of their costly public sector union contracts that they will grab any tax they can.  Leaving the taxpayers with less money in their pockets.  Which is why they turned to the Internet in the first place.  To get as much value as they can from their rapidly shrinking paychecks.

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Economic Stimulus

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 5th, 2012

Economics 101

Prices match Supply to Demand letting Suppliers know when to bring more Goods and Services to Market

There is a natural ebb and flow to the economy.  Through good times and bad.  And you can tell which way the economy is heading by prices in the market place.  When prices are rising times are typically good.  As people are gainfully employed with money to spend.  As they compete with each other for the goods and services in the market place demand rises.  Growing greater than the supply of goods and services.  So prices rise.  Because when there are fewer goods and services they are worth more money.  For those who have them to sell.  Because demand is so great people are willing to pay top dollar for them.  To get them while supplies last.  This attracts the attention of other suppliers.  Who want to cash in on those high prices.  So they bring more goods and services to market.

In time supply catches up to demand.  And passes it.  Suddenly the market has more goods and services than people are buying.  As inventories grow retailers stop buying so much from their wholesale suppliers.  Who in turn stop buying so much from their manufacturers.  Who in turn stop buying so much from their raw material suppliers.  And manufacturers and their raw material suppliers begin laying off workers.  So there are fewer people gainfully employed with money to spend.  The fewer gainfully employed buy less than the more gainfully employed.  Causing inventories to grow larger as more goods are going into them than are coming out of them.  So they start cutting prices.  To unload these inventories before people start buying even less.  Because they spent a lot of money to build those inventories.  And it costs to hold these items in warehouses and stockrooms.

And that’s the natural ebb and flow of the economy.  What economists call the business cycle.  That goes from an expanding economy to a contracting economy.  From boom to bust.  From inflation to recession.  Something normal.  And natural.  Though it could be unpleasant for those who lose their jobs.  But it’s something that must happen.  To correct prices.  You see, prices make all of this work automatically.  They match supply to demand.  Letting suppliers know when to bring more goods and services to market.  And when they’ve brought too much.  When the economy goes into recession prices fall.  Which tells suppliers that supply exceeds demand.  And that anything additional they bring to market will not sell.  As they incur costs to bring things to market this is very good information to have.  So they don’t waste money.  Leaving their businesses short of cash.  Possibly causing their businesses to fail.

Whenever we Devalue the Dollar with Inflationary Monetary Policy Prices Rise

No one likes losing their job.  Because they need income to pay their bills.  And the government doesn’t like people losing their jobs.  Because they tax those incomes to pay the government’s bills.  And unemployed people pay no income taxes.  So the government tries to tweak the economy.  At the federal level.  To extend the inflationary periods of the business cycle.  And they do that with inflationary monetary policy.  Using their monetary powers to keep interest rates below the true market interest rate.  Hoping it will encourage suppliers and consumers to keep borrowing and spending money.  Even though supply had already caught up to and passed demand.  Such that everyone that wanted to buy something could.  While every supplier that wanted to sell something couldn’t.

Some people take advantage of these lower interest rates.  Some people will remortgage their homes to lower their monthly payment.  Which will give them a little more disposable cash each month.  Which they may use to buy more stuff.  But other people will take this opportunity to buy a large house just because of the low interest rate.  As some businesses may borrow to expand their business just because of the low interest rate.  Not for unmet demand.  These actions may not help the economy.  In fact they may hurt the economy in the long-term.  When the inevitable recession comes along and they are so overextended they may not be able to pay their bills.  They may lose their house.  Or their business.  For the worst thing to have whenever you suffer a reduction in revenue or income is debt.

But there is an even worse effect of that inflationary monetary policy.  When you increase the money supply you increase the total amount of dollars in the economy.  But they’re chasing the same amount of goods and services.  Which makes each dollar worth less.  Requiring more of them to buy the same things they once did.  Which is why whenever we devalue the dollar with inflationary monetary policy prices rise.  So, yes, there may be an initial expansion of economic activity.  But some people will have inflationary expectations.  That is, they know prices will go up in the very near future.  So they won’t increase production.  Why?  While an initial burst of economic activity may draw down those bloated inventories those coming higher prices will increase business costs.  Which businesses will have to pass on in the prices of their goods.  And how do higher prices affect consumers?  They buy less.  So manufacturers are not going to expand production when price inflation is going to reduce their sales in the long run.

Cutting Taxes and Reducing Costly Regulations have Stimulated Economic Activity every time they’ve been Tried

Perhaps the worst effect of inflation is the false information those higher prices give.  When consumer demand rises so do prices.  And it’s a signal to suppliers to bring more goods and services to market.  But when prices rise because of a depreciated dollar and NOT due to higher consumer demand, some may bring more goods and services to market when there is no demand for it.  So you have rising prices.  And expanding production.  Producing more goods than the market is demanding.  Creating a bubble.  Adding a lot of stuff to the market place at very inflated prices.  That no one is buying.  Then the bubble bursts.  And recession sets in.  As businesses lay off workers to adjust supply to meet actual demand.  And those inflated prices fall back to market values.  The higher inflationary monetary policy pushed those prices up the farther they have to fall.  And the more painful the recession will be.

You see, inflationary monetary policy interferes with the natural ebb and flow of the economy.  And the automatic price mechanism that matches supply to demand.  By trying to expand the inflationary side of the business cycle, and contract the recessionary side, governments make recessions longer.  And more painful.  Which is why Keynesian stimulus policies (lowering interests rates and deficit spending) don’t stimulate long-term economic activity.  Yet it is what most governments turn to whenever the economy slows. While there is another way to stimulate economic activity.  One that is not so popular with most governments.  Across the board tax cuts on business and personal incomes.  And reducing costly regulations on businesses.  These make a more business-friendly environment.  Encouraging businesses to expand and hire people.  Because these actions will have a positive impact on a business’ long-term outlook.  And with consumers having more disposable income (thanks to the cuts in personal income tax rates) businesses know there will be a market of any increase in production.

So there you have two ways to stimulate economic activity.  One way that works (tax cuts and reducing costly business regulations).  And one that doesn’t (lowering interest rates and deficit spending).  So why is the one that doesn’t work chosen by most governments over the one that does?  Because governments like to spend money.  It’s how they build constituencies.  By giving generous benefits to voters.  But to do that they need tax revenue.  Lots of tax revenue.  Produced by increasing tax rates as often as they can.  So they cannot stand the thought of cutting taxes.  Ever.  Which is why they always choose inflationary policies over tax cuts.   Even though those policies fail to stimulate economic activity.  As proven throughout the era of Keynesian economics.  While cutting taxes and reducing costly regulations have stimulated economic activity every time they’ve been tried.

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