Is the nation headed for a McRecovery?
By Annie Lowrey, Saturday, April 23, 5:05 PM
McDonald’s named Tuesday “national hiring day.” As with everything McDonald’s, it’s all about scale. In one day, the chain hoped to add as many as 50,000 people to its payrolls; worldwide, it employs 1.7 million, runs 32,000 restaurants and serves tens of millions of burgers every day. On one hand, this is great news: 50,000 jobs! On the other hand, 50,000 McJobs?
Indeed, the McHiringSpree raises the question: What kind of jobs has the recovery ginned up? The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a host of month-by-month information on who is working where, for how much and for how long. The data show that a few industries are at or above their level of employment before the recession. The federal workforce is slightly bigger, once you factor out job losses at the Postal Service and ignore Census hiring. Employment is up in some niches, like computer systems design. And health care remains the nation’s strongest growth industry, with tons of new jobs for workers like home health aides and physicians’ office workers.
But the industries where employment remains below peak are too long to list — jobs remain scarce in the majority of subcategories, from logging to personal and laundry services. Alas, that is to be expected. The Great Recession sacked the entire economy. Demand remains low.
So it may be better to measure from the trough than the peak, looking for the industries that have had a jobs uptick since bottoming out. According to the BLS, a lot of sectors have seen a mild, tentative rebound. Businesses from railways to clothing retailers have taken back some of the workers they shed.
Despite the gains, though, it all adds up to a fairly bleak picture: The jobs we’re adding, for the most part, aren’t great ones. The National Employment Law Project took a closer look at employment and jobs-growth data in February. It says that just 14 percent of recent job growth comes from high-wage industries. About half comes from low-wage industries. Restaurants and food services businesses, “especially” fast-food outlets, made up 7 percent. The picture contributes to a larger story: The country has produced far too few stable, middle-income jobs over the past 20 years, not just the past three.
Harry Holzer, a Georgetown University professor, says the recession has distorted the jobs picture. “Early on in a recovery, a lot of the hiring is temporary and low-end,” he says. “In an uncertain labor market, it’s easier to hire those workers.” As the recovery strengthens, he expects the economy to add more and better positions.
For now, the economy will take any jobs it can get. Besides, those McJobs might be nothing to mock. Several McDonald’s executives started behind the counter. A low-paying job need not stay a low-paying job forever. And a low-paying job is decidedly better than none at all.
Stimulus by Fed Is Disappointing, Economists Say
By BINYAMIN APPELBAUM
Published: April 24, 2011
WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve’s experimental effort to spur a recovery by purchasing vast quantities of federal debt has pumped up the stock market, reduced the cost of American exports and allowed companies to borrow money at lower interest rates.
But most Americans are not feeling the difference, in part because those benefits have been surprisingly small. The latest estimates from economists, in fact, suggest that the pace of recovery from the global financial crisis has flagged since November, when the Fed started buying $600 billion inTreasury securities to push private dollars into investments that create jobs.
As the Fed’s policy-making board prepares to meet Tuesday and Wednesday — after which the Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, will hold a news conference for the first time to explain its decisions to the public — a broad range of economists say that the disappointing results show the limits of the central bank’s ability to lift the nation from its economic malaise.
“It’s good for stopping the fall, but for actually turning things around and driving the recovery, I just don’t think monetary policy has that power,” said Mark Thoma, a professor of economics at the University of Oregon, referring specifically to the bond-buying program.
Mr. Bernanke and his supporters say that the purchases have improved economic conditions, all but erasing fears of deflation, a pattern of falling prices that can delay purchases and stall growth. Inflation, which is beneficial in moderation, has climbed closer to healthy levels since the Fed started buying bonds.
“These actions had the expected effects on markets and are thereby providing significant support to job creation and the economy,” Mr. Bernanke said in a February speech, an argument he has repeated frequently.
But growth remains slow, jobs remain scarce, and with the debt purchases scheduled to end in June, the Fed must now decide what comes next.
The Fed generally encourages growth by pushing down interest rates. In normal times, it reduces short-term interest rates, and the effects spread to other kinds of borrowing like corporate bonds and mortgage loans. But with short-term rates hovering near zero since December 2008, the Fed has tried to attack long-term rates directly by entering the market and offering to accept lower returns.
The Fed limited the program to $600 billion under considerable political pressure. While that sounds like a lot of money, the purchases have not even kept pace with the government’s issuance of new debt, so in a sense the effort has amounted to treading water. And a growing body of research suggests that the Fed could have had a larger impact by spending more money on a broader range of debt, like mortgage bonds, as it did initially.
A vocal group of critics, meanwhile, argues that the Fed has already done far too much, amassing a portfolio of more than $2 trillion that may impede the central bank’s ability to raise interest rates to curb inflation. Some of these critics view the rising price of oil and other commodities as harbingers of broader price increases.
“I wasn’t a big fan of it in the first place,” said Charles I. Plosser, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and one of the 10 members of the Fed’s policy-making board. “I didn’t think it was going to have much of an impact, and it complicated the exit strategy. And what we’ve seen has not changed my mind.”
The Fed’s decision to buy bonds, known as quantitative easing, emulated Japan’s central bank, which started buying bonds in 2001 to break a deflationary cycle.
The American version worked well at first. From November 2008 to March 2010, the Fed bought more than $1.7 trillion in mortgage and Treasury bonds, holding down mortgage rates and reducing borrowing costs for well-regarded companies by about half a percentage point, according to several studies. That is an annual savings of $5 million on every $1 billion borrowed.
As the economy sputtered last summer, Mr. Bernanke indicated in an August speech that the Fed would start a second round of quantitative easing, soon nicknamed QE 2. The initial response was the same: Asset prices rose, interest rates fell, and the dollar declined in value.
But in addition to being smaller, and solely focused on Treasuries, there also was a problem of diminishing returns. The first round of purchases reduced the cost of borrowing by persuading skittish investors to accept lower risk premiums. With markets closer to normalcy, Mr. Bernanke warned in his August speech that it was not clear that the Fed would have comparable success in persuading investors to accept even lower rates of return.
“Such purchases seem likely to have their largest effects during periods of economic and financial stress,” he said.
The Fed says that its expectations were tempered by these realities, but that the program nonetheless has lowered yields on long-term Treasury bonds by about 0.2 percentage point relative to the rates investors would have demanded in the Fed’s absence. That is about the same impact the central bank might have achieved by lowering its benchmark rate 0.75 percentage point, which in normal times would be an aggressive move.
But some economists say the new program has had a more limited impact on the broader economy than would a traditional cut in short-term interest rates. The Fed predicted that investors would be forced to buy other kinds of debt, reducing rates for other borrowers. But the supply of Treasuries available to investors has grown since November, as issuance of new government debt outpaced the Fed’s purchases.
A study published in February found that interest rates decreased, but only for companies with top credit ratings. “Rates that are highly relevant for households and many corporations — mortgage rates and rates on lower-grade corporate bonds — were largely unaffected by the policy,” wrote Arvind Krishnamurthy and Annette Vissing-Jorgensen, both finance professors at Northwestern University.
Another indication of its limited success: Borrowing has not grown significantly, suggesting that corporations — which are sitting on record piles of cash — are not yet seeing opportunities for new investments. Until they do, some economists argue that the Fed is pushing on a string.
“What has it done? It has eased credit conditions, it has pumped up the stock market, it has suppressed the dollar,” said Mickey Levy, Bank of America’s chief economist. “But does the Fed think that buying Treasuries and bloating its balance sheet is really going to create permanent job increases?”
Economic Growth Slow as Inflation Measure Spikes Up
Published: Thursday, 28 Apr 2011 | 8:38 AM ET
U.S. economic growth slowed more than expected in the first quarter as higher food and gasoline prices dampened consumer spending, and sent a broad measure of inflation rising at its fastest pace in 2-1/2 years.
But the pull back in output, which was also the result of harsh winter weather, a widening trade gap as well as weak government spending, will probably be fleeting given a firming labor market.
Growth in U.S. gross domestic product—a measure of all goods and services produced within U.S. borders—braked to a 1.8 percent annual rate after a 3.1 percent fourth quarter pace, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. Economists had expected a 2 percent growth pace.
“We hit a bit of a soft patch in the first quarter, but that should prove temporary because weather was a drag and we got blindsided a bit by a jump in gasoline prices late in the quarter,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics before the report was released.
The Federal Reserve on Wednesday acknowledged the slowdown in first-quarter growth, describing the recovery as proceeding at a “moderate pace”—a slight step back from a statement in March when it said the economy was on a “firmer footing.”
It trimmed its growth estimate for 2011 to between 3.1 and 3.3 percent from a 3.4 to 3.9 percent January projection.
The U.S. central bank signaled it was in no rush to start withdrawing the massive monetary stimulus it has lent the economy. It confirmed plans to complete its $600 billion bond buying program in June.
Growth in the first quarter was curtailed by a sharp pull back in consumer spending, which expanded at a rate of 2.7 percent after a strong 4 percent gain in the final three months of 2010.
Rising commodity prices meant the households that drive about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity had less money to spend on other items. The report also underscored the pain that strong food and gasoline prices are inflicting on households.
A broader measure of inflation, the personal consumption expenditures price index, rose at a 3.8 percent rate—its fastest pace since the third quarter of 2008—after increasing 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter.
The core index, which excludes food and energy costs, accelerated to a 1.5 percent rate—the fastest since the fourth quarter of 2009 — from 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter. The core gauge is closely watched by Fed officials, who would like it around 2 percent.
Growth Will Trend Higher
Still, economists expect consumer spending to trend higher in the second quarter, mostly on the belief gasoline prices will not rise much above $4 a gallon on average.
Ironically, the labor market, which until recently had lagged the economic recovery that got under way in the second half of 2009, is seen underpinning growth in the coming quarters. Exports are also seen shouldering the recovery.
The economy added 216,000 jobs in March, the most in 10 months and the unemployment rate dipped to a two-year low of 8.8 percent from 8.9 percent in February.
In the first quarter, growth was also curbed by the trade deficit as a need for businesses to rebuild inventories sucked in imports. Export growth slowed.
A widening trade deficit weighs on GDP growth because it shows more U.S. demand being sated by overseas production.
Nevertheless, strong import growth has been seen as a sign of underlying strength in domestic demand.
Restocking by businesses picked up pace, with inventories increasing $43.8 billion after a $16.2 billion rise in the fourth quarter. Inventories added 0.93 percentage point to GDP growth. Excluding inventories, the economy grew at a pedestrian 0.8 percent pace, reflecting important pockets of weakness, after a brisk 6.7 percent rate in the fourth quarter.
Business spending on equipment and software gained pace from the prior quarter, but government spending contracted at its fastest pace since the fourth quarter of 1983. Home building made no contribution, while investment in nonresidential structures dropped at its quickest pace the fourth quarter of 2009. However, motor vehicle output added 1.4 percentage point to economic growth last quarter.
Dollar Skids to New Three-Year Lows
By STEPHEN L. BERNARD
NEW YORK—The dollar dropped after economic indicators pointed to a dismal employment picture and slowing economic growth.
First-time claims for unemployment benefits jumped 25,000 to 429,000, indicating employers might have slowed their hiring recently. Economists were expecting claims to fall to 395,000.
At the same time, gross domestic product rose at a modest 1.8% pace in the first quarter, matching economists’ forecasts. However, the pace of expansion is much weaker than it was at the end of 2010, when the economy was growing at 3.1% pace.
“Overall this suggests that the U.S. economy is slowing down a bit and that could potentially weigh on the dollar going forward,” said Brown Brothers Harriman strategist Mark McCormick.
The euro was at $1.4827 from about $1.4794 late Wednesday. The dollar was at ¥81.48, from ¥82.04.
The dollar has been hammered recently, losing out on interest-rate differentials and regularly hitting multiyear lows against other major currencies. Losses were especially bad Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke indicated the central bank is far from tightening monetary policy as economic growth remains slow and unemployment remains high.
During European trading hours, the euro reached its highest level since December 2009 at $1.4882, while the Australian dollar hit yet another post-float high and traded at $1.0919.
More people applied for unemployment benefits
More people requested unemployment benefits last week, the second increase in 3 weeks
Christopher S. Rugaber, AP Economics Writer, On Thursday April 28, 2011, 10:39 am EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) — More people sought unemployment benefits last week, the second rise in three weeks, a sign of the slow and uneven jobs recovery.
Applications for unemployment benefits jumped 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 429,000 for the week ending April 23, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the highest total since late January.
The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, rose to 408,500, its third straight rise and the first time it has topped 400,000 in two months. Applications near 375,000 are consistent with sustained job creation. Applications peaked during the recession at 659,000.
Several economists attributed the increase to difficulties in seasonally adjusting the data around the Easter holidays. Since the timing of Easter changes each year, the data around the holiday week can be volatile.
“Given these technical factors, we are inclined to dismiss the recent backup,” said Carl Riccadonna, an economist at Deutsche Bank Securities. “We will be looking for claims to move back below 400,000 in early May.”
Other analysts were more slightly more concerned. Ryan Wang, an economist at HSBC Securities, noted that the four-week average has increased by 20,000 in the past month.
“Minor seasonal distortions are not a good reason to dismiss the underlying increase in jobless claims,” Wang wrote in a note to clients. “This is a big enough increase to merit some concern about the direction of employment growth going forward.”
Some analysts have predicted that auto factory shutdowns, stemming from supply disruptions in Japan, would cause applications to rise. But a Labor Department analyst said only one state reported auto-related layoffs and the increase was modest.
Economic growth slowed sharply in the first three months of the year, according to a separate report Thursday from the Commerce Department. Rising gas prices cut into consumer spending, bad weather delayed construction projects and the federal government cut defense spending by the most in six years.
The economy grew at a 1.8 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter, a much weaker pace that the 3.1 percent growth in the previous quarter. But economists say the slowdown is mostly the result of high gas prices and other temporary factors. They expect gas prices will stabilize and growth will exceed 3 percent pace for the rest of this year.
Unemployment benefit applications trended down for about six months, but have leveled off in recent weeks. Still, other recent evidence shows that businesses have stepped up hiring. Companies added more than 200,000 net new jobs in February and March, the fastest two-month pace in five years. The unemployment rate fell in March to 8.8 percent, down a percentage point in one month.
The reports come a day after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the economy is steadily recovering, but is slowed down by persistent unemployment. Bernanke said the Fed can’t take further steps to try to reduce unemployment without risking higher inflation.
The Fed has kept short-term interest rates at a record low level of near zero since December 2008. It is also buying $600 billion in Treasury bonds in another effort to lower interest rates. Both moves have spurred criticism from some members of Congress that the low interest rates could spur higher prices.
More than 3.6 million people are receiving unemployment benefits from regular state unemployment programs. Millions more are receiving aid under emergency programs put in place by Congress during the recession. All told, 8.2 million people obtained unemployment benefits in the week ended April 9, the latest data available. That’s a drop of about 100,000 from the previous week.
Small businesses’ recovery sluggish as larger firms bounce back from recession
By Brady Dennis, Published: April 28
Samuel Demisse’s Maryland-based coffee importing business was prospering even after the 2008 financial crisis. New orders poured in. But without enough funding to pay suppliers in Ethiopia, he no longer could fill the demand.
Gone were the pre-crisis days when banks told him he was preapproved for loans of as much as $100,000. Instead, even though he had always made his payments on time, his bank had slashed his line of credit, and others he visited also turned him away. “I couldn’t fulfill the demand, because I didn’t have the working capital,” said Demisse, owner of Keffa Coffee in Towson. “Without financing, you cannot do anything. . . . It’s like trying to drive a car without gas.”
In the past, the revival of small businesses helped lift the U.S. economy out of recession. But as many larger firms are getting back on solid footing and big banks have returned to profitability, small-business activity has remained unusually sluggish this time, offering little help in bringing down the unemployment rate.
Since the financial crisis, the Obama administration has created a patchwork of programs aimed at helping existing small businesses and spurring new ones. Among them: numerous tax breaks, expanded Small Business Administration loans, measures designed to get small banks lending again, efforts to help small businesses begin exporting, and public-private partnerships intended to boost start-ups and fill the venture capital void that has persisted during the crisis.
Obama has also asked federal agencies to review their regulations for ways to streamline or eliminate rules that unnecessarily burden small businesses.
“We’re trying to facilitate getting small business to be an engine of recovery,”Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview. “It’s important. They should be driving the recovery.”
Demisse has taken the first steps toward turning around his coffee business, offering some hope for other entrepreneurs. In the fall, he secured a $75,000 loan from a private lender in Pennsylvania and used the money to take on new business. He’s hoping to hire an additional employee this spring.
But his experience illustrates the obstacles many small-business owners continue to encounter. The nation’s small businesses have suffered disproportionately during the downturn and continue to struggle more than their larger counterparts.
Many existing businesses, their credit lines tapped out and their revenues battered, have struggled to remain afloat, much less expand. Businesses wanting to grow have often found themselves stymied by the reluctance of banks to lend again after the crisis. New start-ups, which have fueled job creation after previous recessions, have not taken root at the same pace as in the past.
Small businesses account for more than half of private-sector employees and have generated nearly two-thirds of new jobs over the past 15 years, according to the Small Business Administration.
Experts agree that tougher access to credit has played a key role in the poor performance of small firms. “Anybody who cannot access public capital markets has found the recovery post-crisis really a struggle,” Goolsbee said. “Essentially, the financial crisis never left them.”
Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, added that the crunch for small firms took root in 2007.
“Because small businesses are so dependent on bank lending for working capital, they really felt the pain first,” he said.
Most Americans say U.S. in recession despite data: poll
By David Morgan WASHINGTON | Thu Apr 28, 2011 9:47am EDT
(Reuters) – More than half of Americans say the U.S. economy is in a recession or a depression despite official data that show a moderate recovery, according to a poll released on Thursday.
The April 20-23 Gallup survey of 1,013 U.S. adults found that only 27 percent said the economy is growing. Twenty-nine percent said the economy is in a depression and 26 percent said it is in a recession, with another 16 percent saying it is “slowing down,” Gallup said.
The poll findings have a 4 percentage point margin of error, according to Gallup.
The health of the U.S. economy is expected to be a major issue as President Barack Obama, a Democrat, seeks re-election in 2012.
The government reported on Thursday that U.S. economic growth slowed more than expected to 1.8 percent in the first quarter of the year, as soaring food and gasoline prices drained consumer spending power.
A slowdown in first-quarter growth was acknowledged on Wednesday by the Federal Reserve, which described the U.S. economic recovery as proceeding at a “moderate pace.” That was a step back from the “firmer footing” that Fed officials cited for the recovery in March.
The Gallup poll found that Democrats are the most likely to say the economy is growing. Forty-three percent of Democrats said the economy is in a recession or depression, 13 percent said it is slowing down and 42 percent said it is growing.
Sixty-eight percent of Republicans and supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement said the economy is in a recession or a depression. Fourteen percent of Republicans and 13 percent of Tea Party supporters said the economy is growing.
Fifty-seven percent of independent voters — a crucial segment of the electorate for Obama’s re-election bid — said the economy is in a recession or depression and 24 percent said it is growing.
Economic Recovery – What Recovery?