Free Markets, Free People

Bureau of Economic Analysis


Corporations sitting on money and not hiring despite better March unemployment numbers

It certainly wouldn’t surprise me given the unsettled business climate.  And, in fact, that’s what the Bureau of Economic Analysis is reporting – a record 1.6 trillion is being held while companies sort out what is happening in the business and financial sectors.  That, of course, means it isn’t being spent on hiring.  But there’s another reason, other than the unsettled business climate that is keeping corporations from hiring:

“Companies slashed their work forces and now find that they could function far more resourcefully than they ever realized possible,” Bianco said. “If anything, we could start to see some of the money being used to expand overseas or to acquire other companies. In either case, that does not bode well for job creation. In fact, mergers lead to job reductions unfortunately.”

A nice way of saying, it may get worse. Companies have become more efficient and productive.  Because of that, most experts I’ve read expect the national unemployment rate – the U3 – to remain in the 9% area throughout the year.  Government efforts to spur hiring haven’t amounted to much:

Alan Krueger, assistant secretary for economic policy at the US Department of the Treasury, points out that President Obama recently signed a jobs creation act known as HIRE which includes a variety of incentives. HIRE, for example, exempts companies from paying social security payroll tax if they hire someone who has been out of work for more than two months, and offers them a $1000 cash bonus if they retain the worker for a full year.

That’s not going to tip the scales and cause a company to hire if solid business reasons don’t dictate such action.  And, as pointed out in the first cite, there’s a very good reason, at least at this point, not to hire – companies have learned to live and, in some cases, prosper without the employees they slashed.

One of the great surprises of the economic downturn that began 27 months ago is this: Businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.

That means high-level gains in productivity — which in the long run is the key to a higher standard of living but in the short run contributes to sky-high unemployment. So long as employers can squeeze dramatically higher output from every worker, they won’t need to hire again despite the growing economy.

And right now, employers are indeed doing more with less and are not going to be inclined to hire more employees until it is clear that demand for their product is up, will continue to grow and requires more employees to produce their product and fulfill the consumer’s demand.

That all brings us to today’s March unemployment numbers:

The Employment report has shown good numbers throughout March today release but not as good as expected by market. NFP data has posted 162.000 new jobs in march, with a revision in the previous data to -14.000 from -36.000 in February. Market expectations were 187.000 new jobs in March. Unemployment rate remains at 9.7% in March, the same February number.

What that report doesn’t break out is the fact that the numbers are most likely inflated by the temporary hiring of census workers (and that will continue through June).  The Bureau of Labor Statistics did note it in its release:

Temporary help services and health care continued to add jobs over the month. Employment in federal government also rose, reflecting the hiring of temporary workers for Census 2010. Employment continued to decline in financial activities and in information.

So while +162,000 is obviously better than -162,000, the numbers aren’t really all that solid.  Also remember that our economy requires about 120,000 to 140,000 new jobs a month just to offset job loses elsewhere and maintain a static unemployment percentage.  And that’s pretty much what this month’s numbers show us and is the reason the unemployment percentage has remained static.  What would give us a truer picture of the rate is to remove the census hiring from the numbers. My guess is we’d still be well below the 120,000 to 140,000 threshold necessary to drop that rate.  But what the last three months may indicate is the labor market is finally bottoming out.

The point, of course, is that corporations are still in a position, driven by increases in productivity and lack of demand as well as an unsettled business environment, not to increase hiring any time soon.  The money corporations are sitting on, as noted, is going to go somewhere – most likely to increased dividends or mergers. And mergers actually mean fewer jobs, not more. Until companies see increased, well-defined and sustainable growth in demand to the point they can’t handle it with their present level of employees, they’re not going to hire no matter how many “jobs” bills Congress passes and Obama signs.

~McQ

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