Investing Insights

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EMPLOYMENT WATCH  •  June 17, 2024  •  Jon Wolfenbarger

Fed Delays Rate Cuts As Employment Data Signals Recession

AUSTIN, TX — Various leading employment indicators are pointing to a recession. So it is only natural that the Fed, who consistently proves their inability to predict anything, is likely delaying rate cuts until after the election.


Let’s dig in to this slow motion train wreck which most investors are completely unaware of.



Another Magical Jobs Report

The latest jobs report showed 272K new jobs were added in the US in May, with downward revisions of 15K jobs for March and April. This was another “blowout” jobs number, with about 100K more jobs “created” than expected.


On the other hand, the unemployment rate increased to 4%, the highest level in about three and a half years. 


What is going on? How can the unemployment rate rise with such a strong jobs report?


As we have discussed before, the “jobs” number is based on the Establishment Survey, which simply counts the number of jobs. The unemployment rate is based on the Household Survey, which counts the number of employed workers. Thus, the “jobs” number includes multiple job holders. 


While the number of “jobs” increased by 272K, the number of employed workers plummeted by 408K!


How is that possible? Well, the bureaucrats at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) use a “birth-death adjustment” that imputes job growth based on their subjective estimate of how many businesses were created or destroyed in a given period. This birth-death adjustment added 231K to the pre-seasonally-adjusted jobs number in May. Moreover, this birth-death adjustment contributed 56% of the 3.4 millions “jobs” the BLS says were added over the past year.


In other words, government bureaucrats have fudged the jobs numbers to make them look better than they are to help the Administration and Fed pretend that the economy is stronger than it is.


The difference between the number of jobs and workers is now 9 million, the biggest disconnect in history, as shown in this chart.



Payrolls employment

Source: ZeroHedge



Even Fed Chair Jay “Transitory Inflation” Powell was forced to admit at his press conference last week that "there is an argument that [payrolls] may be a bit overstated.” While that is an understatement, we are clearly living in unusual times when a Fed Chair is compelled to highlight the belief that government bureaucrats are overstating jobs growth. 



Employment Indicators Are Flashing “Recession!”

Thus, due to government statistical manipulation, we need to dig deeper into the employment data to see what is really going on, which is apparently too difficult or time consuming for most investors to bother with.


The first potential concern is that the “jobs growth” was driven mostly by relatively a-cyclical industries, with Health Care adding 68K jobs, Government adding 43K jobs and Leisure/Hospitality adding 42K jobs. 


The second and bigger problem is that full-time employment continues to fall. This is a major problem for the Fed and investors praying for a “softish landing”, as full-time jobs typically fall while part-time jobs rise heading into a recession.


In May, full-time jobs plummeted by 625K, partially offset by a 286K increase in part-time jobs. Over the past year, full-time jobs have fallen by 1.2 million, while part-time jobs have increased by 1.5 million. 


Full-time jobs have fallen each of the past four months. Over the past 50 years, every single time full-time jobs fell three straight months, the economy has been in a recession or about to enter a recession. As shown below, the current full-time jobs decline of -0.9% is typically only seen during a recession. 



Full-time jobs



Another recession sign is the decline in temporary workers. Since temp jobs are the easiest jobs for employers to cut, they are a good leading indicator of unemployment and recession. Whenever temporary jobs have declined year-over-year three months in a row, the economy has headed into a recession. As shown below, temporary jobs have declined for the past 19 months. Whatever Jay Powell says, this is not a sign a “strong” employment. 



Temporary workers



Job openings also tend to fall heading into a recession, as do job hires and job quits.  As shown in this chart, all three of these metrics have been declining for nearly two years, which typically only happens in recessions.



Open Quits Hires



Initial unemployment claims (IUCs) and continuing unemployment claims (CUCs) are also good indicators of the employment situation. As shown in this chart, IUCs (top clip) have risen 25% from the recent lows in January, while CUCs (middle clip) have risen 5%. Since their lows in the fall of 2022, IUCs have risen 32% and CUCs have risen 41%. These are not bullish signs, especially with investor sentiment and stock market valuations at sky-high levels. 



IUC CUC



Perhaps the simplest and most reliable recession indicator is the unemployment rate (UR). The UR has risen from a low of 3.4% last year to 4.0% now, an increase of 0.6%. Every single time the UR has increased by 0.5% or more since World War II, there has been a recession.


Another sign that major layoffs are coming soon is the significant increase in the number of mentions of “operational efficiency” (i.e., job cuts) in corporate transcripts, as shown in this chart.



Operational efficiency

Source: ZeroHedge



Fed Pushes Back On Rate Cuts Despite Recession Signs

Last week, the Fed announced they are keeping the Federal Funds rate at a two-decade high of 5.25% to 5.50%. Even more important for investors was that the Fed lowered their expected number of rate cuts this year from two to one. In 2025, they expect five rate cuts totaling 1.25 percentage points. 


Jay “Transitory Inflation” Powell said they will hold rates steady until they are “confident” inflation is heading to their arbitrary 2% target. Note that the Employment Cost Index (i.e., wage inflation) rose 4.2% in May, more than double the Fed’s 2% target. 


With strong “jobs” numbers and stubbornly high inflation, even the Fed admits they cannot cut interest rates anytime soon. The problem for Powell is the next likely time for a rate cut is at their September meeting and it would raise questions about the Fed’s “political independence” if they cut rates right before the election.


Powell says he believes the economy and jobs are “strong” and there are no signs of a recession. Keep in mind that Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said there would be no recession in 2008, after the Great Recession had already started! Given their track record, it is a mystery why investors believe anything the Fed says.



Stock Market Breadth Remains Bearish

In a healthy bull market, most stocks are in an uptrend. In an unhealthy bear market, most stocks are in a downtrend. When headline stock indexes are hitting new highs, but most stocks are flattish or down, that is a major warning sign of a potential stock market top.


That is the case now.


While major headline stock indexes like the S&P 500 and NASDAQ have been hitting new highs due to continued investor mania over AI and NVIDIA — which is up 1,125% since it late 2022 low, after it fell 69% from its late 2021 high — most stocks are struggling.


For example, the median US stock, as represented by the Value Line Geometric Index, is down 15% from its late 2021 high, as is the Russell 2000 index of 2000 small cap stocks.


There is also a major Dow Theory divergence, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up nearly 3% this year, but the Dow Jones Transportation Index down 6%, as shown below. This suggests a potential change in trend for the stock market.



Dow Theory



Another major warning sign for the market is the massive divergence between the NASDAQ stock index and the NASDAQ Advance-Decline Line, as shown below.



NASDAQ




Investment Implications

This bear market started with a 25% decline in the S&P 500 and a 38% decline in the NASDAQ during 2022 due to high inflation and rising interest rates. As a result, that is all investors are focused on. With inflation slowing and interest rate cuts likely at some point in the future, investors have taken the AI story and run with it.


But when unemployment starts rising and the economy falls into a recession, the double-digit earnings growth Wall Street is expecting will not be possible. That’s when valuation multiples will start falling, driving the overall stock market lower. With valuations near all-time highs, there is a lot of downside potential ahead.








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EARNINGS OUTLOOK  •  June 10, 2024  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
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GOVERNMENT DEBT  •  April 29, 2024  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
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BULL VS BEAR  •  November 4, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Bull Market Continues, But Stocks Will Likely Be 50%+ Lower In 12 Years!

BEATING THE MARKET  •  October 26, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Why Mutual Funds Don’t Work

CRYPTOCURRENCIES  •  October 19, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Bull Case For Bitcoin ETFs — And The Best One To Buy Now

BULL AND BEAR TECHNICALS  •  October 11, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
The Stock Market Is Weakening More Than Most Stock And ETF Investors Realize

BEAR MARKET PROFITS  •  September 30, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
How To Trade ETFs To Maximize Bear Market Profits

BEAR MARKET PROFITS  •  September 22, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
How To Identify Bear Markets With ETFs And Basic Technical Analysis

BEAR MARKET PROFITS  •  September 19, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
How To Make Money -- Instead Of Lose Money -- In A Stock Bear Market

ETF STRATEGY  •  September 16, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Proof That ETF Strategies Using Technical Analysis Significantly Beat “Buy And Hold” Investing

BULL AND BEAR TECHNICALS  •  September 10, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Good News And Bad News For Stocks And Stock ETFs On Three Different Time Frames

BEATING THE MARKET  •  September 1, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Three Ways To Beat The Market With Stocks And ETFs

BEAR MARKET RISK  •  August 28, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Here’s Why The Next Stock Bear Market Will Likely Be The Worst Since The Great Depression

ETF TRENDS  •  August 26, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
These Popular ETF “Inflation Hedges” Are Now Moving In Opposite Directions

ETF STRATEGY  •  August 24, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
What Smart ETF Investors Need To Understand About Bitcoin, Gold and Stocks

SECTOR ETFS  •  August 19, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Sector ETFs With The Best and Worst Earnings Growth In 2021 and 2022

ECONOMICS 101  •  August 12, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Employment Remains At Recessionary Levels, Thanks To Government Subsidies

MONEY MISCHIEF  •  August 9, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Wise ETF And Stock Investors Focus On Money Supply, Not Employment

BULL AND BEAR TECHNICALS  •  August 7, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Bonds, Gold and Silver ETFs Are All In Bear Markets

MONEY MISCHIEF  •  July 31, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Commodity Stocks and ETFs At Risk As Money Supply and Industrial Production Growth Slows

STOCK MARKET TREND  •  July 24, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Stock Market Uptrend Remains Intact, But Four Key Indicators Show Cracks Below The Surface

STOCK MARKET SENTIMENT  •  July 20, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Stock Market Investor Sentiment Is Flashing Danger Signs

STOCK MARKET WARNING  •  July 14, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Investor Warning: US Stock Market Is Most Overvalued In History!

ASSET TRENDS  •  July 9, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
What Major Asset (and ETF) SURPRISINGLY Has The Most Bearish Trend Right Now?

INFLATION DANGERS  •  June 30, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
3 Reasons ETF And Stock Investors Must Prepare To Profit From Rising Inflationary Pressures

DEBT DANGERS  •  June 23, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
The Government Debt Bomb Could Decimate Stock And ETF Investors Who Are Not Prepared

BULL AND BEAR TECHNICALS  •  June 15, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
What This Proven Indicator Is Telling Us About The Stock Market And Economic Trend

BOOM AND BUST INDICATORS  •  June 8, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
What Every ETF And Stock Investor Should Know About Business Cycles

BOOM AND BUST INDICATORS  •  June 1, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
How To Use The Yield Curve To Profit From Booms And Busts

CREATING WEALTH  •  May 25, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
How To Achieve Financial Freedom By Investing In ETFs And Stocks

FREE MARKET INSIGHTS  •  May 19, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
How Successful Stock And ETF Investing Benefits Society By Creating Wealth

CRYPTOCURRENCIES  •  May 13, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Trader Alert: 5 Bitcoin Bear Market Sell Signals

BULL AND BEAR TECHNICALS  •  May 6, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
How To Profit More Than Buy And Hold Investing

BULL AND BEAR TECHNICALS  •  April 30, 2021  •  Jon Wolfenbarger
Why Smart Stock Traders Always Use The 250-Day Moving Average