First time unemployment claims rose by 52,038 to 577,279 in the week ended January 1. The Wall Street captive media is, as usual fudging the reports by reporting that claims were at 409,000, based on the seasonal hocus pocus. They report an uptick of 18,000 instead of 52,000. Both Dow Jones and Bloomberg are emphasizing that the 4 week moving average dropped sharply. Again, this is based on seasonally adjusted fudge packing.
The truth is that while this years end of year rise in claims is better than the past two years, the numbers are still a lot worse than during good economic times. This week’s jump of 52k compares with a rise of 88,929 in the week ended 1/2/10. The chart below shows that the normal seasonal uptrend is at a lower trend level than the past two years, but well above 2006-2008. The insured unemployment rate remains well above the 2004-2008 period. However, even that number may be misleading because it uses a base number comprised of a 6 month average from the period ended in June. Because fewer people are now eligible, the actual rate should be higher.
Because new claims are limited to those eligible, part of the downtrend in new claims is due to the millions of persons losing eligibility. To account for that, the next chart shows new claims as a percentage of those eligible. Here the improving trend shows evidence of leveling off. The normal seasonal spike at the beginning of January needs to hold around .053% to keep the downtrend from the peaks of the past 2 years intact. The green line connects the most recent week with the same week in prior years. Next week’s data should be the seasonal peak.
The Department of Labor calculates the total number of covered employees quarterly, using a 6 month average. The current figure is based on data from the first half of 2010, which is not very useful now. However, it does imply that much of the drop in continuing claims has come from those losing eligibility.
The following chart shows Continued Claims on an inverse scale, overlaid with stock prices and Fed securities holdings. The inverse Continued Claims graph is a directional proxy for total employment. The downtick at this time of year is normal. The trend remains strong which suggests that the seasonally adjusted payrolls data tomorrow should be positive. The consensus calls for a gain of 140,ooo. As I reported in the Wall Street Examiner Professional Edition Treasury update to subscribers this week, wage tax withholding in December ran 15% ahead of November, but that probably reflects withholding from year end bonuses rather than a significant increase in employment levels. The year to year gain was more muted.
It’s pretty clear from this chart that the Fed is the driver of these trends, but that other forces are at work causing diminishing returns.
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