The jobless claims data covered the week to 2 May 2020, while the data for the non-farm payrolls was collected around mid-April – so the payrolls data is a less timely indicator than the weekly initial jobless claims.
Adding to the complexity, the unemployment rate doesn’t capture those who aren’t “unemployed” – as many Americans have gone from having several part-time jobs to just one.
Furthermore, the US Labour Department said the unemployment rate would have been almost 5 percentage points higher if workers had been classified as unemployed due to a temporary layoff, rather than employed but absent from work.
While it seems safe to conclude that anyone who has lost their job is having a pretty stressful time, the data does show, as we have been suggesting (please see here), that the layoffs have been concentrated in sectors such as restaurants, retail and leisure – and as we have previously said, this is not a normal downturn as most of these job losses should be temporary due to the fact that the coronavirus outbreak is a transient issue. As a result, when the economy has fully reopened and we are all consuming again (i.e. we go back out to the shops; eat out in restaurants; and go on holiday), we will undoubtedly see record job gains!
As a result, while this unemployment data is headline grabbing, it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know – i.e. the global economy has hit a brick wall.
It is also safe to say, sadly, that we can expect more of everything in the coming weeks: more job losses, more companies cutting their profit forecasts, more dividend payments being cancelled and unfortunately, more deaths from the coronavirus outbreak.
Given this you may also be wondering why equity markets have started to recover from their lows at the end of March. That is because the equity market is not the economy – and what this data isn’t telling you is that the global economy is starting, albeit slowly, to reopen. Hence why we have argued that it is best to focus on the likely duration of the economic decline rather than the depth.
Sentiment was also helped by news that US and Chinese trade negotiators are speaking about plans to implement a trade deal, despite Donald Trump’s comments about punishing China with tariffs for misleading the world about the scale and risk of the coronavirus.
Looking ahead to this coming week, we have US weekly jobless claims on Thursday (14 May 2020); UK, US and Chinese retail sales; UK & US industrial and manufacturing data; US and Chinese CPI inflation; UK and Eurozone Q1 GDP; and Chinese industrial production.
Investment Management Team