UK hours worked have fallen 12% since the Covid-19 pandemic began

This morning has brought the focus back on the UK and the labour market release has brought some better news. Sadly the unemployment numbers are meaningless right now so we need to switch to the hours worked data for any realistic view.

Between April to June 2020 and July to September 2020, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK saw a record increase of 83.1 million, or 9.9%, to 925.0 million hours.

Average actual weekly hours worked saw a record increase of 2.7 hours on the quarter to 28.5 hours.

This is our first real look at a fullish set of data for the third quarter as we do not get the Gross Domestic Product or GDP numbers until Thursday. Will they also show a bounce of around 10%? Our official statisticians seem to have lost a bit of faith in their own figures as they quote the Markit PMI as back up.

The IHS Markit states that the recovery in business activity, which continued across the manufacturing and service sectors in September 2020, reflects the record increase in total hours worked on the quarter to September.

Perhaps they are unaware of the reduction in credibility for that series. However we can sweep this section up by noting that whilst we have much better news we are in a situation described by Foreigner.

But I’m a long, long way from home

That is because the numbers are still 12% below the pre pandemic peak of 1,052.2 million hours.

Redundancies

We had feared a rise in these, and sadly they have been coming.

Redundancies increased in July to September 2020 by 195,000 on the year, and a record 181,000 on the quarter, to a record high of 314,000 (Figure 3). The annual increase was the largest since February to April 2009.

In terms of what they tell us? We have an issue because we were seeing rises ahead of the further wind down and then end of the Furlough scheme which then saw a U-Turn extension to March. So much for another form of Forward Guidance. So the real message here is somewhat confused.

Using the tax system

This is a new innovation designed to give more timely data and to that extent it helps as we get a signal for October.

Early estimates for October 2020 indicate that the number of payrolled employees fell by 2.6% compared with October 2019, which is a fall of 763,000 employees……..In October 2020, 33,000 fewer people were in payrolled employment when compared with September 2020 and 782,000 fewer people were in payrolled employment when compared with March 2020.

These numbers have proved useful for a direction of travel but again due to the furlough scheme are much too low in scale. Also the wages numbers are best filed in the recycling bin.

Early estimates for October 2020 indicate that median monthly pay increased by 4.6%, compared with the same period of the previous year.

What they are most likely telling us in that job losses have been concentrated in the lower paid which has skewed the series.

Unemployment

Sadly the BBC seems not to be aware that these numbers are way of the mark and so are actively misleading.

The UK’s unemployment rate rose to 4.8% in the three months to September, up from 4.5%, as coronavirus continued to hit the jobs market.

The reason for that is the furlough scheme.

Experimental estimates based on returns for individual weeks show that the number of people temporarily away from work rose to around 7.9 million people in April 2020 but has fallen to around 3.9 million people in September 2020. There were also around 210,000 people away from work because of the pandemic and receiving no pay in September 2020; this has fallen from around 658,000 in April 2020.

Following international guidelines has led us up the garden path.

Under this definition, employment includes both those who are in work during the reference period and those who are temporarily away from a job.

Wages

We can now switch to the price of labour where according to out official statisticians there has also been some better news.

Annual growth in employee pay continued to strengthen as more employees returned to work from furlough, but pay growth was still subdued as some workers remained furloughed and employers were paying less in bonuses…..Growth in average total pay (including bonuses) among employees for the three months July to September 2020 increased to 1.3%, and growth in regular pay (excluding bonuses) increased to 1.9%.

As you can see below there were hard times still for some sectors.

During the early summer months, the industry sectors accommodation and food services and construction had seen the largest falls in pay, down more than 10% in April to June; in July to September, both recovered some loss although their average total pay growth remained down, at negative 1.8% and negative 3.9% respectively.

Actually the construction numbers seem curious as in my part of London it all seems to have got going again, but as ever London may not be a good guide.

We can see who is doing relatively well by switching to the most recent single month numbers which are for September. Here we see public-sector total pay was up 4.4% on a year ago. Also that the services sector has risen to 3,5%. Switching to manufacturing we see that annual growth has finally become positive but is at a mere 0.6%.

The improvement has followed through into the real wages data at least according to the Office for National Statistics.

In real terms, total pay in July to September grew at a faster rate than inflation, at positive 0.5%, and regular pay growth in real terms was also positive, at 1.2%.

In terms of actual pay those numbers mean this.

For September 2020, average total pay, before tax and other deductions, for employees in Great Britain was estimated at £553 per week in nominal terms. When expressed in real terms (constant 2015 prices), the figure in September 2020 was £509 per week, notably higher than the £488 per week estimated in June 2020.

It may be notably higher than June but is still below the pre credit crunch peak of £522 for the constant price series from February 2008. Actually that number looks a bit of a freak or more formally an outlier but even if we discount it we are still below some of the others from around then.

Comment

We find ourselves again mulling the way that conventional economic metrics have failed us. To be specific we see that underemployment measures are much more useful that unemployment ones as a 12% fall in hours worked gives a much more realistic picture than a 4.8% unemployment rate. In the short-term the improvement in the situation will clash with the November lock down and thus get worse. Although with the Hopium provided by the positive vaccine news from Pfizer there are now more realistic hopes for a better 2021.

Switching to the wages numbers I think there is a compositional effect making them also unreliable or rather more unreliable than usual. We even have an official denial to confirm this.

 that is, if the profile (percentage within each industry) of employee jobs had not changed between July to September 2019 and July to September 2020, the estimates of growth in total pay and regular pay would have been 0.1% lower than reported in this bulletin.

In my opinion the numbers are not accurate enough to claim that. So we know more but much less than some try to claim.

By the way those pushing the 4.8%  unemployment rate ( and thereby believing it) surely they should be pushing for the Bank of England to raise interest-rates as it is well below the levels it was supposed to?

 

Hard times for the economy and banks of Spain

We have an opportunity to peer under the economic bonnet of one of the swing states in the Euro area. We have seen Spain lauded as an economic success followed by the bust of the Euro area crisis and then it move forwards again. But 2020 has proven to be another year of economic trouble and that theme has been added to by this morning’s data release.

The monthly variation of the seasonally and calendar adjusted general Retail Trade Index (RTI)
at constant prices between the months of September and August, stood at −0.3%. This rate was 1.7 points lower than the previous month. ( INE)

So we have a fall when if we follow the official view of recoveries from the pandemic we should be seeing the opposite. Then we note that relative to August there has been a much larger decline. The breakdown is below.

By products, Food remained the same (0.0%) and Non-food products declined by 0.6%. If the latter is broken down by type of product, Household equipment decreased the most (−3.7%).

The one category which rose was personal equipment which was up 2.3%.

If we switch to the annual picture we see this.

In September, the General Retail Trade Index, once adjusted for seasonal and calendar effects, registered a variation of −3.3% as compared with the same month of the previous year. This rate was four tenths lower than the one registered in August.

In a by now familiar pattern car fuel sales are down by 9.2% and after them the breakdown is as follows.

If these sales are broken down by type of product, Food
decreased by 2.7%, and Non-food products by 3.1%.

So unlike in the UK the Spanish are not eating more. After the news we have looked it sadly it is no surprise that jobs are declining.

In September, the employment index in the retail trade sector registered a variation of −3.0%
as compared to the same month of 2019. This rate was three tenths above that recorded in August. Employment decreased by −4.9% in Service stations.

If we look at the structure of the sales we see that small chain stores have been hit hard with sales down 14.3% on a year ago meaning they are only 88.3% of what they were in 2015. There has been a switch towards large chain stores who are 2.4% up in September on a year ago and some 17% up on 2015.

Looking at the overall picture the “Euro Boom” has pretty much been erased as we note that retail sales in September are only 2.2% above 2015. These numbers are not seasonally adjusted and may give the best guide because if there has been a year not fitting regular patterns this is it. We get another clue from the numbers from the Canary Islands where volumes are 13.5% below a year ago and the overall index is at 87,5. I am noting that because it gives us a proxy for the tourism effect, or in this instance the lack of tourism effect. Regular readers will recall we feared that this would be in play when the Covid-19 pandemic started and we can see that it has.

Housing Market

The Bank of Spain and the ECB would of course have turned to these figures first.

The number of mortgages constituted on dwellings is 19,825, 3.4% less than in August 2019. The average amount is 134,678 euros, an increase of 4.0%.

They will have been disappointed to see the number of mortgages lower but pleased to see an increase in mortgage size which offers the hope of more business for their main priority which is the banks and may even offer a hint of house price rises.

One factor of note is that if we look at the remortgage figures we see a different pattern in terms of fixed to floating mortgage rates than we have become used to.

After the change of conditions, the percentage of mortgages
fixed interest increases from 19.0% to 31.2%, while that of variable rate mortgages decreases from 80.4% to 59.7%.

As to house prices these are the most recent numbers.

The annual rate of the Housing Price Index (HPI) decreased one percentage point in the
second quarter of 2020, standing at 2.1%.
By housing type, the rate of new housing reached 4.2%, almost two points below that
registered in the previous quarter

So we still have growth and the central bankers will be happy with an index that is at 126.8 when compared with 2015. Their researchers will be busy enhancing their career prospects by finding Wealth Effects from this whilst nobody asks why all the emails from first-time buyers saying they cannot afford anything keep ending up in the spam folder.

Looking Ahead

Last month the Bank of Spain told us this.

Under these considerations, the economy’s output would fall by 10.5% on average in 2020 in scenario 1, and by up to 12.6% in the event that the less favourable epidemiological situation underlying the construction of scenario 2 were to
materialise. That said, the pickup in activity projected for the second half of this year, following the historic collapse recorded in the first half, would have a positive carry-over
effect on the average GDP growth rate in 2021, which would reach 7.3% in scenario 1, while remaining at 4.1% in scenario 2,

With the pandemic storm clouds gathering around Europe we look set for scenario 2 of a larger decline in GDP followed by a weaker recovery. Also if you are in an economic depression then how long it lasts matters as much as how deep the fall is.

In any event, at the end of 2022, GDP would stand some 2 percentage points (pp) below its pre-crisis level in
scenario 1, a gap that would widen to somewhat more than 6 pp in scenario 2.

It is a bit like wars which are always supposed to be over like Christmas and like a banking collapse where we are drip fed bad news. Speaking of the banks there is plenty of bad news around. We can start with the Turkish situation.

Turkish debt held by European banks via BIS – $64 billion in Spanish banks. – $24 billion, in French banks. – $21 billion, in Italian banks. – $9 billion, in German banks. ( DailyFX )

Then there was also this earlier this week. The Spanish consumer association took th banks to court over past mortgage fees.

Those affected do not need to initiate an individual lawsuit, with the costs and time that this entails, but can directly benefit from the success of the Asufin class action lawsuit.

So, as previously indicated, those 15 million mortgages may recover up to an average of 1,500 euros without the need to litigate. ( El Economista)

I doubt that is the end of the story but it is where we presently stand.

Comment

The situation looks somewhat grim right now and it has consequences.If we look at the labour market we have learned that unemployment as a measure is meaningless so here is a better guide.

Total hours worked would fall very sharply on average in 2020: by 11.9% in scenario 1 and 14.1% in scenario 2. Although the rise in this variable, which began
with the easing of lockdown, would continue over the rest of the projection horizon, the total number of hours worked at the end of 2022 would still be 4.5% and 8.3% lower than before the COVID-19 crisis under scenarios 1 and 2, respectively. ( Bank of Spain)

Also the public finances will be doing some heavy lifting.

.As regards public finances, it is estimated that the general government deficit will increase sharply in 2020, to stand at 10.8% and 12.1% of GDP in each of the two scenarios considered…….Public debt, meanwhile, would increase in 2020 by more than 20 pp in scenario 1 and by
some 25 pp in scenario 2, to stand at 116.8% and 120.6% of GDP, respectively.

Of course debt affordability fears are much reduced when some of your bonds can be issued at negative yields and even the ten-year is a mere 0.17%.

As to the banks the eyes of BBVA and Banco Santander will be on developments in Turkey right now.

Me on The Investing Channel

UK labour market data confirm that we are in an economic depression

Today has brought news that adds to my contention that the UK is experiencing an economic depression right now. We have to look deeper than the conventional signals because tight now some of them are not working. For example the official unemployment definition set by the International Labor Organisation or ILO is missing the target by quite a lot. To use a football analogy if they took a shot at goal they not only miss it but they miss the stand as well. This is why.

Under this definition, employment includes both those who are in work during the reference period and those who are temporarily away from a job. The number of people who are estimated to be temporarily away from work includes furloughed workers, those on maternity or paternity leave and annual leave.

As we stand that covers approximately an extra 4 million people which is a huge number compared to what are being reported as unemployed as you can see below.

Estimates for June to August 2020 show an estimated 1.52 million people were unemployed, 209,000 more than a year earlier and 138,000 more than the previous quarter.

This can be misleading for the unwary and I note that the BBC Economics Editor Faisal Islam has failed to note this development.

Sharp spike up in unemployment rate to 4.5%, above 1.5 million, after revisions and the headline numbers finally catching up with grim reality. Suggests monthly number in August as furlough unwound around 5%.

If you actually think the UK unemployment rate is either 4.5% or 5% then I have a bridge to sell you. Poor old Faisal looks completely lost at sea.

Unemployment still low by historic (3 year high) and international standards – but on way up…

It is in reality as I shall explain high but recently has fallen so he is wrong in every respect.

Hours Worked

The actual signal of a depression in the UK labour market is provided here which looks through the issue of the furlough scheme muddying the waters. Let us start with the better part of it which shows a post lockdown ( which just in case we should now call Lockdown 1.0) improvement.

Between March to May 2020 and June to August 2020, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK saw a record increase of 20.0 million, or 2.3%, to 891.0 million hours. Average actual weekly hours worked saw a record increase of 0.7 hours on the quarter to 27.3 hours.

However the overall picture is of a 15% fall in hours worked. Because is we look back to this time last year ( June to August for this purpose) the number of hours worked was 1.049.2 million. Sadly we get little detail on what is the most significant number right now and the maths is mine. The bit below hides more than it reveals.

Although decreasing over the year, total hours worked had a record increase on the quarter, with the June to August period covering a time when a number of coronavirus lockdown measures were eased.

Redundancies

These provide another clear signal as we note this.

Redundancies increased in June to August 2020 by 113,000 on the year, and a record 114,000 on the quarter, to 227,000. The annual increase was the largest since April to June 2009, with the number of redundancies reaching its highest level since May to July 2009.

So in round terms the rate of redundancies has doubled. There is also a hint that things are also getting worse.

The redundancies estimates measure the number of people who were made redundant or who took voluntary redundancy in the three months before the Labour Force Survey interviews; it does not take into consideration planned redundancies.

Pay as You Earn ( PAYE)

The tax data gives us another insight.

Early estimates for September 2020 indicate that there were 28.3 million payrolled employees, a fall of 2.2% compared with the same period in the previous year and a decline of 629,000 people over the 12-month period. Compared with the previous month, the number of payrolled employees increased by 0.1% in September 2020 – equivalent to 20,000 people.

As you can see these numbers are much more timely than the other labour market data which only reach March. It also shows much more of a change than the unemployment numbers but is still undermined somewhat by the existence of the furlough scheme. There will be payrolled employees who are being subsidised by the furlough scheme until the end of October.

Wages

These are giving the same signal as we note this.

In June to August 2020, the rate of annual pay growth was unchanged for total pay but positive 0.8% for regular pay. The difference between the two measures is because of subdued bonuses, which fell by an average negative 15.3% (in nominal terms) in the three months June to August 2020.

So pay growth is no longer negative as we note an unsurprising divergence between regular pay and bonuses. This compares to where we were pre pandemic as shown below.

The rate of growth stood at 2.9% in December 2019 to February 2020 immediately prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,

We saw wages fall and now they are flatlining. This means that in real terms they are doing this according to the official release.

In real terms, total pay is growing at a slower rate than inflation, at negative 0.8%. Regular pay growth in real terms is now positive, at 0.1%.

So if we use a better inflation measure we see that real wages are falling by a bit more than 1% per annum. This means we are even further below the pre credit crunch peak as we note that this measure has experienced its own version of a Japanese style lost decade.

The aggregate numbers hide a few things as we note some substantial shifts within them.

The public sector saw the highest estimated growth, at 4.1% for regular pay. Negative growth was seen in the construction sector, estimated at negative 5.3%, the wholesaling, retailing, hotels and restaurants sector, estimated at negative 1.8%, and the manufacturing sector, estimated at negative 0.9%. This is, however, an improvement over the growth rates during May to July 2020.

We can learn more from the August data if we look at it as a single month. This is because wages rose from £531 per week to £550 meaning that they were 1.9% higher than a year before. A fair bit of this was the finance sector which saw weekly wages rise by £32 to £721. However there was also welcome news for construction up by £12 to £631 and the hospitality sector where they rose £8 to £364 per week.

Comment

Looking at properly today’s UK labour market release confirms the prognosis of the economic growth or GDP release from Friday. It is not that we lack some green shoots as the August wage data is one and this from the PAYE numbers adds to it albeit is too good to be true right now.

Early estimates for September 2020 indicate that median monthly pay increased to £1,905, an increase of 4.3% compared with the same period of the previous year.

But on the other side of the coin the annual fall in hours worked correlates with the decline in GDP we have seen pretty well. I hope that we can get through this more quickly than in the past but the reality is that these are falls of a size which indicate an economic depression. If reality is too much then you can take a Matrix style blue pill and follow the BBC reporting a 4.5% unemployment rate.

As a caveat all of these numbers are subject to wider margins of error right now. You may be surprised how few are surveyed for the main data source

One key data source for understanding the UK labour market is the Labour Force Survey (LFS), which usually covers around 35,000 households a quarter.

At the moment that will be less representative because in switching to a telephone based system they discovered a change that seems too big to be true.

Back in February around 67 per cent of households in their first interview in the LFS sample were owner occupiers and 32 per cent were renters. But in July this was around 77 per cent and 21 per cent respectively……… For tomorrow’s release we will therefore reweight the estimates so that the shares of owner occupiers and renters are the same as before the pandemic hit in March.

 

 

 

The UK underemployment rate rose as high as 18%

At a time of great uncertainty and not a little worry for many we should be able to turn to official statistics for at least a benchmark. Sadly the Covid-19 pandemic has found them to be wanting in many respects. Let me illustrate this with an example from the BBC.

The UK unemployment rate has risen to its highest level for two years, official figures show.

The unemployment rate grew to 4.1% in the three months to July, compared with 3.9% previously.

There are all sorts of problems with this right now which essentially come from the definition.

Unemployment measures people without a job who have been actively seeking work within the last four weeks and are available to start work within the next two weeks.

During this period many will not bother to look for work as for example some think they still have a job.

Last month, we reported on a group of employees who, because of the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, have reported that they are temporarily away from work and not getting paid. Similarly, there is a group of self-employed people who are temporarily away from work but not eligible for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). Although these people consider themselves to have a job and therefore are consistent with the ILO definition of employment, their lack of income means that they may soon need to look for work unless they are able to return to their job.

A sort of job illusion for some with the problem being is how many? I would like all of them to return to their jobs but also know they will not. The concept though can be widened if we add in the furlough scheme which was designed to save jobs but as a by product has driven a bus through the employment and unemployment data.

The number of people who are estimated to be temporarily away from work (including furloughed workers) has fallen, but it was still more than 5 million in July 2020, with over 2.5 million of these being away for three months or more. There were also around 250,000 people away from work because of the pandemic and receiving no pay in July 2020.

So we are unsure about 5 million workers which dwarfs this.

Estimates for May to July 2020 show an estimated 1.40 million people were unemployed, 104,000 more than a year earlier and 62,000 more than the previous quarter.

So we see that the number is simply way too low which means that all of the estimates below are at best misleading and in the case of the employment rate outright laughable.

the estimated employment rate for all people was 76.5%; this is 0.4 percentage points up on the year and 0.1 percentage points up on the quarter…….the estimated UK unemployment rate for all people was 4.1%; this is 0.3 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.2 percentage points higher than the previous quarter…….the estimated economic inactivity rate for all people was 20.2%, a joint record low; this is down by 0.6 percentage points on the year and down by 0.3 percentage points on the quarter

The economic inactivity measure is perhaps the worst because the worst level of inactivity in my lifetime is being recorded as a record low. This embarrasses the Office for National Statistics as we are in “tractor production is rising” territory.

What can we use?

A measure which is working pretty well seems to be this.

Between February to April 2020 and May to July 2020, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK decreased by 93.9 million to 866.0 million hours. Average actual weekly hours fell by 2.8 hours on the quarter to 26.3 hours.

This shows a much larger change than that suggested by the official unemployment measure. We can in fact learn more by looking further back.

Over the year, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK decreased by 183.8 million to 866.0 million hours in the three months to July 2020. Over the same period, average actual weekly hours fell by 5.8 hours to 26.3 hours.

On this measure we see that if we put this into the employment numbers we would see a fall approaching 6 million. So in effect the underemployment rate was in fact heading for 18%. If we simply assume that half of it was unemployment we have an unemployment rate of 11% which in economic terms I am sure we did. Now the economy is more open perhaps it is 7-8%.

The 8% unemployment rate does get some support from this.

Between July 2020 and August 2020, the Claimant Count increased by 73,700 (2.8%) to 2.7 million (Figure 10). Since March 2020, the Claimant Count has increased by 120.8% or 1.5 million.

It is hard not to have a wry smile as I type that because back in the mid 1980s Jim Hacker in Yes Minister told us nobody believes the unemployment figures and those are the one he was referring to. There are other references to that sort of thing as well.

Hacker: The school leaving age was raised to 16 so that they could learn more, and they’re learning less!

Sir Humphrey: We didn’t raise it to enable them to learn more! We raised it to keep teenagers off the job market and hold down the unemployment figures.

Pay

The opening salvo is less than reassuring.

The rate of decline in employee pay growth slowed in July 2020 following strong falls in the previous three months;

We find that the pattern is what we would be expecting.

Growth in average total pay (including bonuses) among employees was negative 1.0% in May to July, with annual growth in bonus payments at negative 21.4%; however, regular pay (excluding bonuses) was positive at 0.2%.

It has been the public sector which has stopped the numbers being even worse.

Between May to July 2019 and May to July 2020, average pay growth varied by industry sector . The public sector saw the highest estimated growth, at 4.5% for regular pay. Negative growth was seen in the construction sector, estimated at negative 7.5%, the wholesaling, retailing, hotels and restaurants sector, estimated at negative 3.2%, and the manufacturing sector, estimated at negative 1.7%.

However there was an improvement for many in July.

 For the construction, manufacturing, and the wholesaling, retailing, hotels and restaurants sectors, the July 2020 estimate of annual growth shows sign of improvement when compared with May to July 2020.

If we look at the construction sector then weekly wages rose from £573 in June to £620 in July so there was quite a pick-up of which £10 was bonuses.

Switching to an estimate of real pay we are told this.

In real terms, total pay growth for May to July was negative 1.8% (that is, nominal total pay grew more slowly than inflation); regular pay growth was negative 0.7%.

Although those numbers rely on you believing the inflation numbers which I do not.

Comment

We have found that the official ILO ( International Labor Organisation) methodology to have failed us in this pandemic. Even worse no effort has been made to fix something we have been noting ( in this instance looking at Italy) since the third of June.

and unemployment sharply fell

If you actually believe unemployment fell in Italy in April I not only have a bridge to sell you I may as well sell the river as well.

Looking at the data suggests an underemployment rate of the order of 20% in the UK giving us an actual unemployment rate perhaps double the recorded figure.

If we switch to pay and wages we need to remind ourselves of those who are not counted. For example the self-employed and companies with less than ten employees. Such omissions did not bother the Dr.Martin Weale review back in the day but perhaps one of the ONS Fellows could help like er Dr.Martin Weale. We are back to reliving Yes Minister again.

Meanwhile according to Financial News some are resorting to desperate measures to get GDP rising again.

‘It could get really messy’: Finance workers’ cocaine use spikes in lockdown

UK wages are falling in both real and nominal terms

It is the UK that is in the economic spotlight this morning as we look to dig some insight out of the labour market figures. Many of the usual metrics are failing us as we have looked at originally with reference to Italy, but some are working. The best guide we get to the fall in employment comes from this.

Between January to March 2020 and April to June 2020, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK decreased by a record 191.3 million, or 18.4%, to 849.3 million hours.

This compares to 16.7% or 877.1 million hours last month. So as you might expect the rate of change has slowed quite a bit as lockdown began to be eased but we are still falling.In terms of context there is this.

This was the largest quarterly decrease since estimates began in 1971, with total hours dropping to its lowest level since September to November 1994. Average actual weekly hours fell by a record 5.6 hours on the quarter to a record low of 25.8 hours.

The weekly numbers have dipped further too as they were 26.6 hours last month.

If we look at the annual picture for more perspective we see that whilst the vast majority of the change is “right here, right now” as Fatboy Slim put it we can see that the economy was hardly flying before the Covid-19 pandemic. Although in something of an irony I suppose there were phases where productivity was better.

As to the sector worst hit there is no great surprise.

The accommodation and food service activities industrial sector saw the biggest annual fall in average actual weekly hours, down 15.4 hours to a record low of 13.0 hours per week.

The Office for National Statistics has been trying to do a weekly breakdown which tells us this.

During May we saw average actual hours start to increase slowly for the self-employed, however this increase has slowed down and hours remained relatively flat throughout June.

Here it is in graphical format.

So we learn a little but this only takes us to the end of June.

Falling Wages

The opening salvo warns us that there is trouble ahead.

Employee pay growth declined further in June following falls in April and May; growth has been affected by lower pay for furloughed employees since March, and reduced bonuses; nominal regular pay growth for April to June 2020 is negative for the first time since records began in 2001.

Firstly records did not begin in 2001 as it is rather disappointing to see an official body like the ONS reporting that. As I shall explain later their certainly were records as how could we have seen the wages and prices spiral of the late 1970s? What they mean is that they changed the way they record the numbers.

Returning to now the main impact is below.

Growth in average total pay (including bonuses) among employees declined in April to June to negative 1.2%, with annual growth in bonus payments at negative 19.4%; regular pay (excluding bonuses) slowed to negative 0.2%.

So wages are falling and we can add to that a worse picture for June itself.

Single-month growth in average weekly earnings for June 2020 was negative 1.5% for total pay and negative 0.3% for regular pay.

In terms of sectors we are told this.

For the sectors of wholesaling, retailing, hotels and restaurants, and construction, where the highest percentage of employees returned to work from furlough, there is a slight improvement in pay growth for June 2020 compared with April and May; weaker pay growth in some higher-paying sectors negates this at whole economy level.

If we stay with the June figures then as you might well have suspected it is a much better time to be in the public-sector with wages growth of 4.2% than in the private-sector where it was -2.9% on a year before. The worst sector is construction where wages in June were 9% worse than a year ago. It is also true that there are some hints of improvement as the hospitality sector mentioned above went from -7% in May to -4% in June and construction had been -11%.

Real Wages

My usual caveat is that the official inflation measure is woeful due to its use of Imputed Rents and to that we need to add that somewhere around 20% of the inflation data has not been collected due to the pandemic. Indeed the official house price data series was suspended as after all who is interested in that? But what we have is this.

In real terms, pay is now growing at a slower rate than inflation, at negative 2.0% for total pay, the lowest rate since January to March 2012. Regular pay growth in real terms is also negative, at negative 1.0%. The difference between the two measures is because of subdued bonuses, which fell by an average negative 19.4% (in nominal terms) in the three months April to June 2020.

Or if you prefer it in monetary terms.

For June 2020, average regular pay, before tax and other deductions, for employees in Great Britain was estimated at £504 per week in nominal terms. The figure in real terms (constant 2015 prices) fell to £465 per week in June, after reaching £473 per week in December 2019, with pay in real terms back at the same level as it was in December 2018.

As ever they seem to have had amnesia about the total wage series where at 2015 prices we see a weekly wage of £489 in June which compares to £502 for most of the end of last year and the beginning of this. It was last at that level in May 2018. On the positive side we saw a drop in wages but the last three months have been the same ( within £1 in both series). However the negative view is that total wage growth since 2015 is now 1.3%

Employment and Unemployment

The furlough scheme has made these of little use.

A large number of people are estimated to be temporarily away from work, including furloughed workers; approximately 7.5 million in June 2020 with over 3 million of these being away for three months or more.

Unless of course you actually believe this.

the estimated UK unemployment rate for all people was 3.9%; this is largely unchanged on both the year and the quarter

If so perhaps you will let us know the other five.

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” ( Alice In Wonderland)

Comment

The wages numbers tell a story but is it a truthful one? If we stay with it there is a problem highlighted by this from the LSE blog in 2015.

Figure 1 shows that median real wages grew consistently by around 2 per cent per year from 1980 to the early 2000s. There was then something of a slowdown, after which real wages fell dramatically when the economic downturn started in 2008. Since then, real wages of the median worker have fallen by around 8-10 per cent (depending on which measure of inflation is used as a deflator – the consumer price index, CPI, or the housing cost augmented version CPIH). This corresponds to almost a 20 per cent drop relative to the trend in real wage growth from 1980 to the early 2000s.

I have left the inflation measures in as by now all regular readers will be aware that things will be worse using the RPI which is why they have tried and failed to scrap it and are now trying to neuter it. So now the drop is over 25%.

The cautionary note is that the official wages series can be heavily affected by changes in composition or what we are obviously seeing right now. Rather bizarrely we are officially told this is not happening. Meanwhile the series based on taxes ( PAYE) is more optimistic.

Median monthly pay increased by 1.1% in June 2020, compared with the same period of the previous year.

Maybe there is an influence going from average to median but I suspect that it is those not paying taxes it is badly missing here. Such as it is I think we do get something from the improvement for July.

Early estimates for July 2020 indicate that median monthly pay increased by 2.5%, compared with the same period of the previous year.

So overall in terms of real pay it seems we are going to have to wait some time for Maxine Nightingale.

Ooh, and it’s alright and it’s coming along
We gotta get right back to where we started from
Love is good, love can be strong
We gotta get right back to where started from.

The Investing Channel

 

 

 

UK Wages are falling again as we go back in time to 2006

The pace of UK economic data releases is relentless at this time of the month as we have several “theme” days. Officially they are to highlight areas but in fact the role is to hope that any bad data is quickly replaced by good and also to swamp us with too much information. For example UK trade is worth a day on its own but rather conveniently tends to get ignored on GDP day. This morning brings the labour market which is in crisis and I shall first look at the numbers which are providing some insight and then move onto the ones which are failing us.

Wages

We have been both fearing and expecting  a drop here and sadly that has arrived.

Growth in average total pay (including bonuses) among employees slowed sharply in March to May to be negative (at negative 0.3%) for the first time since April to June 2014; regular pay growth (excluding bonuses) slowed to 0.7%.

As you can see total pay has been dragged into negative territory by quite a plunge in bonuses, which is hardly a surprise in the circumstances. This means that those who concentrate on regular pay are missing the bus. Whereas we note that bonuses have gone -2.3%, -15.4% and then -23.5% in the latest 3 months. Weekly bonuses started the year at £34 in January but were only £25 in May.

This means that the wages growth we were happy to see this time last year has gone like this.

The rate of growth has been slowing since April to June 2019, when it stood at 4.0% for total pay and 3.9% for regular pay, the highest nominal pay growth rates since 2008. It had slowed to 2.9% in December 2019 to February 2020 immediately prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

It was slowing anyway but now someone has stamped on the brakes.

We do get a breakdown for the last year as we see the public sector did much better than construction which is a shift as I recall it being the other way not so long ago.

Between March to May 2019 and March to May 2020, average pay growth varied by industry sector (Figure 3). The public sector saw the highest estimated growth, at 3.8% for regular pay, while negative growth was seen in the construction sector, estimated at negative 5.4%, the wholesaling, retailing, hotels and restaurants sector, estimated at negative 2.1%, and the manufacturing sector, estimated at negative 1.6%.

Have you noticed how the official release concentrates on the better regular pay series in the same way we are presented CPIH inflation? Let me help out by pointing out that in May the public-sector did even better for total pay growing by 4.8% on a year before. Whilst weekly bonuses have fallen there they are small ( £3 to £2). Construction total wages have fallen by 9.8% on May last year driven by a fall in bonuses from £30 to £19. Quite a shift to say the least.

Did Furlough Impact This?

Yes as you can see below 60% of those on furlough were only on it so 80% of previous wages.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published estimates of approximately 30% of employees being furloughed in the last two weeks of May, and a little over 40% of furloughed employees having their pay topped-up above the 80% pay received under CJRS ( Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme)

This pulled pay lower.

The combined impact of this is a downward drag of a little over 3%.

So we are now at 169 on the total wages index compared to the recent peak of 174.2 in January

Real Wages

Here are the official numbers.

In real terms, total pay growth for March to May was negative 1.3% (that is, nominal total pay grew slower than inflation); regular pay growth was negative 0.2%, the difference being driven by subdued bonuses in recent months.

They have a favourable inflation number ( CPIH) but the impact of that is lower right now. There is of course the caveat that the inflation numbers are missing quite a bit of data due to the pandemic.

The perspective is this and the last sentence does some heavy lifting here.

For May 2020, average regular pay, before tax and other deductions, for employees in Great Britain was estimated at £504 per week in nominal terms. The figure in real terms (constant 2015 prices) fell to £466 per week in May, after reaching £473 per week in December 2019, with pay in real terms back at the same level as it was in March 2019.

Pay in real terms is still below its level before the 2008 economic downturn.

As it slips their mind to do this let me help out using total pay and indexing to 2015 Pounds. The previous peak of February 2008 of £522 per week seems a statistical aberration so you can either use it or the £507 of May 2008 to compare to the £490 of this May, and yes this is flattered by the woeful inflation number used. A lost decade of twelve years and counting…..

Thirty years of hurt
Never stopped me dreaming ( Three Lions)

However not everyone is losing and thank you to Lynn Lewis and Ben McLannahan for this.

pay at @GoldmanSachs  up by almost a fifth in H1

Time to remind ourselves of this one more time.

The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. ( Matt Taibbi)

Employment

So having sorted out the price of work how much was actually taking place? The best guide comes below.

Between March to May 2019 and March to May 2020, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK decreased by 175.3 million, or 16.7%, to 877.1 million hours (Figure 4). This was the largest annual decrease since estimates began in 1971, with total hours dropping to its lowest level since May to July 1997……..Average actual weekly hours fell by a record 5.5 hours on the year to a record low of 26.6 hours.

Indeed even this is an understatement it would seem

Experimental work with adjusted methodology suggests the use of the existing methodology has understated the reduction in the actual numbers of hours worked by approximately 5% to 6%

So the real fall looks to be of the order of 22%.

Another perspective is provided by the analysis of the Pay As You Earn ( how many are paying tax) figures.

In June 2020, 74,000 fewer people were in paid employment when compared with May 2020 and 649,000 fewer people were in paid employment when compared with March 2020.

Comment

We see that the wages situation is grim with both nominal and real wages falling again. That means that the journey to the previous peak looks ever longer. A more positive view is that there is a small flicker in the May figures so there may be signs of a recovery from the lows. On the other side is the furlough scheme which in a broad sweep is responsible for the wages drop in return for keeping people employed. When it ends though we will see unemployment rise and whilst some will return on normal wages we have already seen wage cuts applied. I expect more of them.

“Following intensive negotiations between Balpa and Ryanair a package of cost savings was put together,” Balpa said. “Pilots have agreed to accept a 20% pay reduction in order to save 260 of the jobs that were at risk, ( The Guardian)

Shifting back to conventional measures they are failing us as you can see.

The UK employment rate was estimated at 76.4%, 0.3 percentage points higher than a year earlier but 0.2 percentage points down on the previous quarter.

Really? Still at least we avoided a form of La Dolce Vita where unemployment supposedly fall, but even so this is hopeless.

The UK unemployment rate was estimated at 3.9%, 0.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier but largely unchanged compared with the previous quarter.

The Investing Channel

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Euro area unemployment rate is much higher than the 7.4% reported today

A clear feature of the economic landscape post the Covid-19 pandemic is mass unemployment. We should firstly note that this is and will continue to create quite a bit of suffering and angst. Also that all the easing policies of the central banks over the past decade or so were supposed to avoid this sort of thing. But if the system was a rubber band it had been stretched towards breaking point and now all they can do is pump it all up even more. But for our purposes there is another issue which is that we have little idea of either how much unemployment there is or how long it will last. Let me illustrate by looking at the numbers just release by Italy.

The Italian Job

As you might expect employment fell in May.

On a monthly basis, the decline of employment (-0.4%, -84 thousand) concerned more women ( 0.7%, 65 thousand) than men (-0.1%, -19 thousand), and brought the employment rate to 57.6% (-0.2 p.p.)…….With respect to the previous quarter, in the period March – May 2020, employment considerably decreased (-1.6%, 381 thousand) for both genders.

 

Also unemployment rose.

In the last month, also unemployed people grew (+18.9%, +307 thousand) more among women (+31.3%, +227 thousand) than men (+8.8%, +80 thousand). The unemployment rate rose to 7.8% (+1.2 percentage points) and the youth rate increased to 23.5% (+2.0 p.p.).

Now the problems begin. Firstly I recall that last time around we were told the unemployment rate was 6.3% which has seen a substantial revision to 6.6%. There my sympathy is with the statisticians at a difficult time. But for the next bit we have to suspend credulity.

In the last three months, also the number of unemployed persons decreased (-22.3%, -533 thousand), while a growth among inactive people aged 15-64 years was registered (+6.6%, +880 thousand).

If we look further back we just compound the issue.

On a yearly basis, the decrease of employed people was accompanied by a fall of unemployed persons (-25.7%, -669 thousand) and a growth of inactive people aged 15-64 (+8.7%, +1 million 140 thousand).

As I pointed out last month the issue is how unemployment is defined.

Unemployed persons: comprise persons aged 15-74 who:
were actively seeking work, i.e. had carried out activities in the four week period ending with the reference week
to seek paid employment or self-employment and were available to start working before the end of the two
weeks following the reference week;

The definition fails when you have a lockdown as some cannot go to work and others quite reasonably think that there is no point. If we assume that the rise in activity is all a type of hidden unemployment then we get an unemployment rate of 12.4% in Italy. Our estimate will be far from perfect so let us say we think it has risen from ~11% last in April to more like 12% in May.

An even grimmer situation is shown by youth unemployment. The official reading is bad enough.

the youth rate increased to 23.5% (+2.0 p.p.).

But if we apply the same methodology we get to a rather chilling 46.3%. The inactivity category here is huge at 4.6 million which I hope is pretty much students. I have to confess that I am reminded of the Yes Prime Minister quote from the 1980s that education was mostly extended to reduce the unemployment numbers. Anyway it is a blunt number but frankly will be much nearer than the official one. Also there will be many young Italians who have had little hope of a job post credit crunch as it was and it just got worse.

What we do learn is how few people are surveyed for these numbers.

The number of interviewed households for May 2020 is about 17,000 (almost equal to 35,500 individuals) and is
approximately 10% lower than the average number of interviews used for the production of estimates related to a
four-weeks month.

Spain

If we switch to the Ministry of Labour we get a barrage of numbers.

Unemployment is reduced in all sectors except agriculture and among claimants “without previous employment”
There are fewer unemployed registered in ten autonomous communities
In June 308,985 more contracts were signed than in the previous month
Almost six million people received SEPE benefits in May.

These numbers look both more useful and realistic. Things started to get better last month with around 309,000 new jobs but the Furlough scheme count in May of 6 million gives a perspective. Also unemployment edged higher.

The registered unemployment in the offices of the State Public Employment Service (SEPE) has increased by 5,107 people compared to the previous month. This represents an increase of 0.1%, which deepens the trend of slowing down the growth rate of unemployment that began in May.

So we end up with this.

The total number of unemployed persons registered in the SEPE offices amount to 3,862,883.

There is an irony in using registered unemployment numbers as they fell into disrepute due to the way they can be manipulated and fiddled. But right now they are doing better than the official series. El Pais summarises it like this.

The total number of jobseekers in Spain has risen to 3.86 million, the highest figure registered since May 2016……The rise in unemployment for June is the first increase seen since 2008, just months before the fall of Lehman Brothers and the year of the financial crisis. The increase in contributors to the Social Security system for the month is also the smallest since 2015.

So we see that there are also still around 2.1 million people on the furlough scheme. In total these benefits were paid out.

In May, the SEPE paid 5,526 million euros in benefits, of which 3,318 million were dedicated to paying ERTE benefits and 2,208 million to unemployment benefits, both at the contributory and assistance level.

If we use these numbers are plug them into the official unemployment series we end up with an unemployment rate of 16.8%.

Euro Area

This morning’s official release tells us this.

In May 2020, a third month marked by COVID-19 containment measures in most Member States, the euro area seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 7.4%, up from 7.3% in April 2020……..Eurostat estimates that 14.366 million men and women in the EU, of whom 12.146 million in the euro area, were unemployed in May 2020. Compared with April 2020, the number of persons unemployed increased by 253 000 in the EU and by 159 000 in the euro area.

Unfortunately we do not have an update on inactivity so we can have a go at getting a better picture. We are promised more but not until next week.

To capture in full the unprecedented labour market situation triggered by the COVID-19 outbreak, the data on
unemployment will be complemented by additional indicators, e.g. on employment, underemployment and potential
additional labour force participants, when the LFS quarterly data for 2020 are published.

Comment

As you have seen earlier this is a “Houston we have a problem moment” for unemployment data as it rigorously calculates the numbers on the wrong football pitch. It creates problems highlighted by this tweet from Silvia Amaro of CNBC.

#unemployment in the euro zone came in at 7.4% in May. At the height of the debt crisis it reached 12.1%. #COVIDー19

That creates the impression things are much better now when in fact they may well be worse. Without the furlough schemes they certainly would be. What we fo not know is how long it will last?

 

UK Real Wages have fallen by over 2% as the unemployment rate looks to have passed 5%

On Friday we got some insight into the state of play of UK output and GDP in April with the caveats I pointed out at the time. This morning has seen us receive the official figures on employment, unemployment and wages which shed with caveats further insight as to where we are. So let us take a look at the opening line.

Early indicators for May 2020 suggest that the number of employees in the UK on payrolls is down over 600,000 compared with March 2020. The Claimant Count has continued to rise, enhancements to Universal Credit as part of the UK government’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) mean an increase in the number of people eligible.

There is quite a bit going on in that paragraph and it is hard to avoid a wry smile at us being directed towards the Claimant Count that was first regarded as unreliable and manipulated back in the 1980s in the Yes Minister TV series,

Sir Humphrey: We didn’t raise it to enable them to learn more! We raised it to keep teenagers off the job market and hold down the unemployment figures.

There is also an episode where Jim Hacker tells us nobody actually believes the unemployment ( Claimant Count) numbers. The tweek to the Universal Credit system is welcome in helping people in trouble but does also add more smoke to the view.

Employment

We can dig deeper and let us start with a little more precision.

Experimental data of the number of payroll employees using HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC’s) Pay As You Earn Real Time Information figures show a fall in payroll employees in recent months. Early estimates for May 2020 from PAYE RTI indicate that the number of payroll employees fell by 2.1% (612,000) compared with March 2020.

Let me give our statisticians credit for looking at other sources of data to glean more information. But in this area there is an elephant in the room and it is a large one.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) definition of employment includes those who worked in a job for at least one hour and those temporarily absent from a job.

Regular readers of my work will be aware of this issue but there is more.

Workers furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), or who are self-employed but temporarily not in work, have a reasonable expectation of returning to their jobs after a temporary period of absence. Therefore, they are classified as employed under the ILO definition.

As the estimate for them is of the order of 6 million we find that our employment fall estimate could be out by a factor of ten! Breaking it down there are all sorts of categories from those who will be unemployed as soon as the scheme ends to those who have been working as well ( sometimes for the same employer) who may be getting an official knock on the door. Also the numbers keep rising as HM Treasury has pointed out today.

By midnight on 14 June there’s been a total of: 9.1m jobs furloughed £20.8bn claimed in total

So the best guide we have comes from this in my opinion.

Between February to April 2019 and February to April 2020, total actual weekly hours worked in the UK decreased by 94.2 million, or 8.9%, to 959.9 million hours. A decrease of 91.2 million or 8.7% was also seen on the quarter.

In terms of a graph we have quite a lurch.

I doubt many of you will be surprised to learn this bit.

The “accommodation and food service activities” industrial sector saw the biggest fall in average actual hours; down 6.9 hours to 21.2 hours per week.

With hotels shut and restaurants doing take out at best I am in fact surprised the numbers have not fallen further.

Unemployment

The conventional measures are simply not cutting it.

For February to April 2020: the estimated UK unemployment rate for all people was 3.9%; 0.1 percentage points higher than a year earlier but unchanged on the previous quarter.

We can apply the methodology I used for Italy on the 3rd of this month where we discovered that a flaw  meant that we found what we would regard as unemployed in the inactivity data.

The single-month estimate for the economic inactivity rate, for people aged 16 to 64 years in the UK, for April 2020, was 20.9%, the highest since August 2019. This represents an increase of 0.7 percentage points on the previous month (March 2020) and a record increase of 0.8 percentage points compared with three months ago (January 2020).

If we count the extra inactivity as unemployed we have some 349,000 more or if you prefer an unemployment rate of 5.1%. This begins to bring the numbers closer to reality although we are not allowing for those who will be unemployed as soon as the furlough scheme ends. Also we are not allowing for the scale of underemployment revealed by the hours worked figures.

Wages and Real Wages

I doubt anyone is going to be too surprised by the fall here.

Estimated annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in the three months to April 2020 was 1.0% for total pay (including bonuses) and 1.7% for regular pay (excluding bonuses).

It is quite a drop on what we had before.

Annual growth has slowed sharply for both total and regular pay compared with the period prior to introduction of the corona virus lockdown measures (December to February 2020), when it was 2.9%.

We see that bonuses plunged if we throw a veil over the double negative below.

The difference between the two measures is because of subdued bonuses, which fell by an average negative 6.8% (in nominal terms) in the three months February to April 2020.

If we look at April alone we get an even grimmer picture.

Single month growth in average weekly earnings for April 2020 was negative 0.9% for total pay and 0% for regular pay.

Already real wages were in trouble.

The 1.0% growth in total pay in February to April 2020 translates to a fall of negative 0.4% in real terms (that is, total pay grew slower than inflation); in comparison, regular pay grew in real terms, by 0.4%, the difference being driven by subdued bonuses in recent months.

So even using the woeful official measure driven by Imputed Rents we see a real wages decline of 1.8% in April. A much more realistic measure is of course the Retail Prices Index or RPI which shows a 2.4% fall for real wages in April.

On this subject there has been some research from my alma mater the LSE giving more power to the RPI’s elbow.

Aggregate month-to-month inflation was 2.4% in the first month of lockdown, a rate over 10 times higher than in preceding months.

I will look at this more when we come to the UK inflation data but it is another nail on the coffin for official claims and if I may be so bold a slap on the back for my arguments.

 

Comment

Today’s journey shows that with a little thought and application we can do better than the official data. Our estimate of the unemployment rate of 5.1% is more realistic than the official 3.9% although the weakness is an inability to allow for what must be underemployment on a grand scale. Shifting to real wages we fear that they may have fallen by over 3% in April as opposed to the official headline of a 0.4% fall. So we get closer to reality even when it is an unattractive one.

Staying with wages the numbers are being influenced by this.

Pay estimates are based on all employees on company payrolls, including those who have been furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

Also Is it rude to point out that we are guided towards the monthly GDP statistics but told that the monthly wages ones ( a much longer running series) are less reliable?. Someone at the UK Statistics Authority needs to get a grip and preferably soon .

 

 

 

 

The problems posed by mass unemployment

A sad consequence of the lock downs and the effective closure of some parts of the economy is lower employment and higher unemployment. That type of theme was in evidence very early today as we learnt that even the land “down under” looks like it is in recession after recording a 0.3% decline in the opening quarter of 2020. The first for nearly 30 years as even the commodities boom seen has been unable to resist the effects of the pandemic. This brings me to what Australia Statistics told us last month.

Employment decreased by 594,300 people (-4.6%) between March and April 2020, with full-time employment decreasing by 220,500 people and part-time employment decreasing by 373,800 people.Compared to a year ago, there were 123,000 less people employed full-time and 272,000 less people employed part-time. Thischange led to a decrease in the part-time share of employment over the past 12 months, from 31.5% to 30.3%.

I have opened with the employment data as we get a better guide from it in such times although to be fair it seems to be making a fist of the unemployment position.

The unemployment rate increased 1.0 points to 6.2%and was 1.0 points higher than in April 2019. The number of unemployed people increased by 104,500 in April 2020 to 823,300 people, and increased by 117,700 people from April 2019.

The underemployment rate increased by 4.9 pts to 13.7%, the highest on record, and was 5.2 pts higher than in April 2019.The number of underemployed people increased by 603,300 in April 2020 to 1,816,100 people, an increase of almost 50% (49.7%), and increased by 666,100 people since April 2019.

As you can see they have picked up a fair bit of the changes and it is nice to see an underemployment measure albeit not nice to see it rise so much. The signal for the Australian economy in the quarter just gone is rather grim though especially if we note this.

Monthly hours worked in all jobs decreased by 163.9 million hours (-9.2%) to 1,625.8 million hours in April 2020, larger than the decrease in employed people.

Italy

In line with our “Girlfriend in a coma” theme one fears the worst for Italy now especially as we note how hard it was hit by the virus pandemic. Even worse a mere headline perusal is actively misleading as I note this from Istat, and the emphasis is mine.

In April 2020, in comparison with the previous month, employment significantly decreased and unemployment sharply fell together with a relevant increase of inactivity.

The full detail is below.

In the last month, also the remarkable fall of the unemployed people (-23.9%, -484 thousand) was recorded for both men (-17.4%, -179 thousand) and women (-30.6%, -305 thousand). The unemployment rate dropped to 6.3% (-1.7 percentage points) and the youth rate fell to 20.3% (-6.2 p.p.).

Yes a number which ordinarily would be perceived as a triumph after all the struggles Italy has had with its economy and elevated unemployment is at best a mirage and at worst a complete fail for the methodology below.

Unemployed persons: comprise persons aged 15-74 who:
were actively seeking work, i.e. had carried out activities in the four week period ending with the reference week
to seek paid employment or self-employment and were available to start working before the end of the two
weeks following the reference week;

Some would not have bothered to look for work thinking it was hopeless and many of course would simply have been unable to. We do find them elsewhere in the data set.

In April the considerable growth of inactive people aged 15-64 (+5.4%, +746 thousand) was registered for
both men (+6.0%, +307 thousand) and women (+5.0%, +438 thousand), leading the inactivity rate to
38.1% (+2.0 percentage points).

If we look back we see that there was a similar issue with the March numbers so a published unemployment rate of 6.3% looks like one of over 11% if we make some sort of correction for the April and March issues.

We get a better guide to the state of play from the employment position which as we observe from time to time has become something of a leafing indicator.

On a monthly basis, the decline of employment (-1.2%, -274 thousand) concerned both men (-1.0%, -131 thousand) and women (-1.5%, -143 thousand), and brought the employment rate to 57.9% (-0.7 p. p.)…….With respect to the previous quarter, in the period February – April 2020, employment considerably decreased (-1.0%, -226 thousand) for both genders…….Compared to March 2019, employment showed a decrease in terms of figures (-2.1%, -497 thousand) and rate (-1.1 percentage points).

Oh and in the last sentence they mean April rather than March. But looking ahead we see a 1.2% fall for employment in April alone which has implications for GDP and of course it is before the furlough scheme.

 Italy has furloughed 7.2 million workers, equivalent to 31% of employment at end-2019; ( FitchRatings )

Germany

This morning has also brought news about the state of play in Germany.

WIESBADEN – Roughly 44.8 million persons resident in Germany (national concept) were in employment in April 2020 according to provisional calculations of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). Compared with April 2019, the number of persons in employment decreased by 0.5% (-210,000). This means that for the first time since March 2010 the number of persons in employment decreased year on year (-92,000; -0.2%). In March 2020, the year-on-year change rate had been +0.2%.

For our purposes we get a signal from this.

According to provisional results of the employment accounts, the number of persons in employment fell by 161,000 in April 2020 on the previous month. Normally, employment rises strongly in April as a result of the usual spring upturn, that is, by 143,000 in April on an average of the last five years.

Perhaps the headline read a lot better in German.

No spring upturn

Switching to unemployment the system seems less flawed than in Italy.

Results of the labour force survey show that 1.89 million people were unemployed in April 2020. That was an increase of 220,000, or 13.2%, on March 2020. Compared with April 2019, the number of unemployed persons increased by 515,000 or +38.0%. The unemployment rate was 4.3% in April 2020.

There is a clear conceptual issue here if we return to Fitch Ratings.

Germany has enrolled more than 10 million workers on its scheme, representing 22% of employment at the end-2019. This number ultimately may be lower because some firms that have registered employees as a precaution may decide not to participate.

Germany employed the Kurzarbeit to great effect during the global financial crisis when its implementation prevented the mass lay-offs that were seen elsewhere in Europe. While unemployment in Germany remained broadly unchanged in 2008-2009, other countries reported significant increases.

Comment

There are deep sociological and psychological impacts from these numbers and let me give my sympathies to those affected. Hopefully we can avoid what happened in the 1930s. Returning to the statistics there are a litany of issues some of which we have already looked at. Let me point out another via the German employment data.

After seasonal adjustment, that is, after the elimination of the usual seasonal fluctuations, the number of persons in employment decreased by 271,000 (-0.6%) in April 2020 compared with March 2020.

The usual pattern for seasonal fluctuations will be no guide this year and may even be worse than useless but it will still be used in the headline data. But there is more if we switch to Eurostat.

In April 2020, the second month after COVID-19 containment measures were implemented by most Member
States, the euro area seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 7.3%, up from 7.1% in March 2020. The EU
unemployment rate was 6.6% in April 2020, up from 6.4% in March 2020.

We have the issue of Italy recording a large rise as a fall but even in Germany there is an issue as I note an unemployment rate of 4.3%. Well after applying the usual rules Eurostat has published it at 3.5%. There is no great conspiracy here as the statisticians apply rules which are supposed to make things clearer but some extra thought is requited as we note they are in fact making the numbers pretty meaningless right now, or the opposite of their role.

The Investing Channel

 

 

 

 

What has happened to the UK consumer?

One of the apparent certainties of economic life is that the British consumer will take the advice of the Pools winner from many years ago and “Spend! Spend! Spend!”. This has led to another feature of our economic life because it seems to have been forgotten by many economists but before the credit crunch there were calculations that out marginal propensity to import from this was of the order of 40%. So there was a clear link to the trade deficit as well. Oh and for millennials reading this the Pools was gambling before there was a lottery, mostly in my experience by older people as for example my grandfather did but my father did not.

However last month provided a counterpoint to such certainty as the slowing in growth that we saw in the latter part of 2019 turned into something more.

In the three months to December 2019, the quantity bought in retail sales decreased by 1.0% when compared with the previous three months……..The quantity bought in December 2019 fell by 0.6% when compared with the previous month; the fifth consecutive month of no growth.

There was still some annual growth just not much of it ( 0.9%). This led to some sill headlines across the media as they used the British Retail Consortium claim that we had seen the worst year since 1995 for retail sales as click bait. That ignored the fact that its numbers are invariably much weaker than the official ones suggesting it id wedded to the bricks and mortar style retail sales which we know is troubled and not enough of the online world. Indeed there was far less reporting of this month’s effort from the BRC as the equivalent of tourists saw fewer easy pickings.

On a Total basis, sales increased by 0.4% in January, against an increase of 2.2% in January 2019. This is above both the 3-month and 12-month average declines of 0.4% and 0.2% respectively.

So weaker than last year but up and should it continue would end the decline in the averages. Actually we now know that the BRC was confused in this area as the inflation numbers did not pick this up.

We have to remember, this semi-positive performance will also be the result of aggressive discounts and consumers’ preoccupation with bagging a bargain.

Labour Market

This brings a contrasting theme as it should be supporting retail sales just as growth has faded away.

Between October to December 2018 and October to December 2019, the level of employment increased by 336,000 (or 1.0%) to a record high of 32.93 million.

There was also some real wage growth over the year just not as much as reported.

In the year to December 2019, nominal total pay (not adjusted for change in prices) grew by 2.9% to £544. Nominal regular pay grew by 3.2% to £512 over the same period. The recorded growth rates show that wage growth is decelerating.

Sadly many places fell for the real regular wages are back to the pre crisis peak spinning of our official statisticians as they cherry-picked from the very top of the tree. But even using more realistic inflation measures than the official imputed rent driven CPIH we still had some real wage growth.

Payment Protection Insurance

I have long argued this has been like a form of QE for the consumer and retail sales so this caught my eye earlier.

The bill for PPI claims in 2019 would be about £2.5bn, but Lloyds said no further provisions were needed as it had already set aside enough money.

It brings the total paid out by Lloyds over the mis-selling saga to £21.9bn. ( BBC )

Today’s Data

As suggested above we had a better month in January.

Retail volumes increased by 0.9% in January 2020, recovering from the falls in the previous two months; the increase was mainly because of moderate growth in both food stores (1.7%) and non-food stores (1.3%).

Actually if we look into the detail the underlying position is stronger and I am pleased to report that my main theme in this area was clearly in play.

Fuel saw a large fall of 5.7% in the quantity bought in January 2020 when compared with December 2019, which coincides with a rise in fuel prices of 2.3 pence per litre between December and January.

For newer readers I first wrote on the 29th of January 2015 that lower inflation boosted retail sales growth which you may note is not only true but the opposite of what central bankers keep telling us. I was involved in a debate with Danske Bank yesterday on this subject and in the end they agreed with me although that last sentence!

Higher than expected inflation makes people worse off, as it means people’s real wage growth is not as high as expected. That is why stable and predictable inflation is so important. Whether the target is 0%, 1% or 2% is less important.

Anyway returning to the data we see a corollary of my theme which is that higher prices should led to lower consumption which seems to be in play. It is probably also true that we are seeing the impact of the switch towards electric vehicles.

Perspective

The better number for January although it may not initially look like it helped the three month average.

In the three months to January 2020, both the amount spent and the quantity bought in the retail industry fell by 0.5% and 0.8% respectively when compared with the previous three months.

This is because November and December were so weak that even a better January was unlikely to fix it. The Underlying index was 108.5 in October then went 107.7 and 107.1 before now rising to 108.1. The index was set at 100 in 2016 so we see this area has seen more growth than others.

On an annual basis we have some growth just not very much of it.

When compared with a year earlier, both measures reported growth at 2.1% for the amount spent and 0.8% for the quantity bought.

Comment

Today gives an opportunity to look at how economics applies in real world events. Having just lost all readers from the Ivory Towers let me apologise to anyone who was disturbed by any screaming from them! They may have just have been able to laugh off the idea that higher inflation is bad but the next bit is too much. You see we have a favourable employment situation especially with real wage growth being added to employment growth but we are losing two factors.

The first is the impact of the PPI claim repayment money which looks as though much of it went straight to the retail sales bottom line. Next there is this from the Bank of England.

The annual growth rate of consumer credit rose to 6.1% in December, having ticked down to 5.9% in November. The growth rate for consumer credit has been close to this level since May 2019. Prior to this it had fallen steadily from an average of 10.3% in 2017.

Whilst it is still the fastest growing area of the economy I can think of my point is that growth has slowed and that seems to be affecting retail sales. A particular area must be what is going on with car sales and a few months back the Bank of England said that but since then it has decided that silence is golden on this subject. For fans of official denials there was of course this from Governor Carney back in the day.

This is not a debt fuelled expansion