The puzzle of the US jobs data

The US jobs data paints a gloomy picture of the state of the American economy. That's having an effect on the markets, says John C Burford. But not as you might expect.

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the US, and trading will be curtailed. So this morning, I will cover a critical macro topic that seems to get many investors worked up - the US jobs picture.

Stock markets have zeroed in on this subject above most others. Now, even the Fed has changedits emphasis from suppressing inflation to promoting employment.It haspledged to do everything to bringunemployment down.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

Many have interpreted this as a green light to ramp up asset markets including gold until the unemployment rate drops to 6.5% (currently 7.8% and falling).

And that is what we are seeing currently.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

But as we all know, the link between asset prices and employment is tenuous at best.

What's happening with the jobs data?

This is the headline unemployment rate in graph form:

13-1-21-MWT-1

But with GDP growth subdued, there appears to be an inconsistency between output and employment.

Why, if many jobs are being created, is GDP not keeping up?

The answer is probably this:many workers are leaving the workforce, which reduces the pool of labour and lowers the unemployment rate.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

This fascinating chart shows the labour participation rate:

13-1-21-MWT-2

The rate peaked in 2000 at 67% and is now falling rapidly and lies under 64% at present.

Even in the lastfour years,ten million people have left the labour force.That is a lot of people on food stamps, benefits, and living off savings or emigrating!

One other factor is the demographic one the population is ageing, as it is in most Western economies.The baby boomers are retiring. And the dependency ratio is falling it is taking more workers to support a growing number of dependents.

But one thing caught my eye when I first saw the above chart:the peak in 2000 occurred at the same time as the Dow Jones Industrials peaked in real terms (adjusted for CPI).

That set me thinking.Could it be that the economy started to contract in 2000 (in real terms) and made jobs more difficult to keep and get?

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

One measure of this is to look at the part-time jobs data. It is all very well counting people in jobs, but are they well-paid, full-time ones?

Here is the part-time jobs data:

13-1-21-MWT-3

For the past six years since the Credit Crunch the number of part-timers (for economic reasons) has ballooned and has only just stabilised since hitting the peak during a period when the stock bulls have proclaimed the economy is growing healthily.

I mentioned those that have come out of the labour force or are on part-time work and are using food stamps (the government programme is called SNAP (incidentally, a term used in the UK for food!).Well, here is the data:

13-1-21-MWT-4

There are 45 million people currently using SNAP a staggering 21% of the population.

This is on a par with European dependency programmes. The USA is now just as socialist as Europe.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

This will have severe implications for the economy, as it already has hadin Europe.

And this is definitely not a healthy US economy. The SNAP figures help explain why the very rich professional money managers (who are buying stocks) are bullish, while the average Joe is much more gloomy.

But remember, the stock market is not the economy!I have seen periods when the economy was lousy and stocks in a bull market, and vice versa.

Euro update

I will follow up on the euro from my post of 14 January, as it is deciding whether to rally above the 1.34 high, or descend back to my tramline.This is the updated daily chart:

13-1-21-MWT-5

(Click on the chart for a larger version)

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

I now have three tramlines, and the original two lower ones are sporting good prior pivot points (PPPs- red arrows).My new upper tramline has two excellent touch points.

OK, the rally off the July low can be counted as an A-B-C, which means I should be looking for a wave C top soon.

Also, there is a potential large negative momentum divergence (red bars) which adds to the bearish case.

Last week, the market hit the centre tramline at 1.34.Is this the end of the rally?

Let's zoom in on the short-term picture:

13-1-21-MWT-6

(Click on the chart for a larger version)

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

The weak spot for the bullish case is the area under the most recent minor low in the pink zone. A move there could herald a move back down to the lower tramline.

But at present, the trend is up.

If you're a new reader, or need a reminder about some of the methods I refer to in my trades, then do have a look at my introductory videos:

The essentials of tramline trading Advanced tramline trading An introduction to Elliott wave theory Advanced trading with Elliott waves Trading with Fibonacci levels Trading with 'momentum' Putting it all together

Don't miss my next trading insight. To receive all my spread betting blog posts by email, as soon as I've written them, just sign up here . If you have any queries regarding MoneyWeek Trader, please contact us here.

Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/519524/how-my-2019-spreadbetting-tips-fared
Share tips

How my 2019 spreadbetting tips fared

Matthew Partridge reviews performance of his 2019 spreadbetting tips. This year’s winners include Bellway, JD Sports and Taylor Wimpey.
17 Dec 2019
Visit/519285/bettingon-politics-some-safe-labour-bets
Spread betting

Betting on politics: some safe Labour bets

Matthew Partridge outlines a few flutters on what should be safe Labour seats in the general election.
10 Dec 2019
Visit/518916/ds-smith-will-deliver
Spread betting

DS Smith will deliver: here's how to play the share price

Packaging group DS Smith is profiting from the online retail boom. Matthew Partridge explains how traders can play the share price.
3 Dec 2019
Visit/518908/betting-on-politics-28
Spread betting

Betting on politics: don't put your money on the SNP

Scottish voters are strongly opposed to another independence referendum, says Matthew Partridge. That opens up a few tasty punts against he SNP.
29 Nov 2019

Most Popular

Visit/520525/currency-corner-how-high-can-the-pound-go-against-the-euro-in-2020
Currencies

Currency Corner: how high can the pound go against the euro in 2020?

In the month in which we should finally leave the European Union, Dominic Frisby takes a look at the pound vs the euro and asks just how high sterling…
13 Jan 2020
Visit/520575/20-predictions-for-the-2020s
Investments

Where will markets be in 2030? Here are 20 forecasts for the 2020s

A lot has changed in the last ten years – stockmarkets soared, technology transformed our lives and politics has changed beyond measure. Here, Dominic…
14 Jan 2020
Visit/520338/how-much-the-state-pension-will-rise-by-this-year
Personal finance

How much the state pension will rise by this year

While Boris Johnson promised to hold a full budget within 100 days of his election victory, many of the details of next year’s state pension increases…
10 Jan 2020
Visit/520553/money-minute-wednesday-15-january
Economy

Money Minute Wednesday 15 January: UK inflation and house prices

In today’s Money Minute, we look ahead to the latest UK inflation and house price figures, plus we have Germany’s GDP data for 2019.
15 Jan 2020