September Challenger Layoff Announcements and Weekly Jobless Claims

INDICATOR: September Challenger Layoff Announcements and Weekly Jobless Claims

KEY DATA: Layoffs: down 23.8%; Jobless Claims: 287,000 (down 8,000)

IN A NUTSHELL:   “With layoffs nearing a 17 year low and jobless claims at historically low levels, the logical next step is for hiring to surge.”

WHAT IT MEANS:  One more day to the jobs report and a couple of indicators are really pointing to a solid increase in payrolls.  Let’s begin with the Challenger, Gray and Christmas monthly report on layoff announcements: In September, job cut warnings fell dramatically, hitting the lowest level in 14 years.  The third quarter total was down 8.6% from the same quarter in 2013 and it is possible that for all of 2014, layoff announcements will be the lowest since 1997.  I guess the simplest thing to say is that companies are holding on to their workers as tightly as possible.  The lack of pink slips is showing up at the unemployment office.  Jobless claims fell again and when you adjust the level for the size of the workforce, we are at record lows.   The number of people receiving unemployment payments is also declined sharply, reaching its lowest level since 2006.  While continuing claims are not near record lows, given the extended period that people can receive unemployment insurance, they are really low.

Several other reports were released today.  On the labor front, the National Federation of Independent Business found that small business hiring was strong in September, which supports a stronger than expected level of hiring.  However, small business hiring generally doesn’t make it into the initial BLS numbers, so don’t be surprised if the September gain, whatever it is, gets revised upward.  There was some concern about future hiring as plans to add workers easedThe New York City Supply Managers’ survey indicated that manufacturing activity picked up steam in September after moderating in August.  Expectations also rose solidly.   And August factory orders were off sharply, basically because of the wild swings we have seen in aircraft orders.  Fattening order books means output should expanding.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS:  The underlying data on labor market conditions point to a firming in the market.  Companies are not cutting workers and as long as growth continues at a decent pace, hiring will have to accelerate.  Whether it shows up in the September or October report is hard to say but one of them should be really big.  Still, feedback I get from personnel firms are that companies continue to be hesitant about pulling the trigger on hiring.  The number of searches is up but placements remain difficult.  It seems that executive management is still resistant to expanding payrolls and adding to costs even though line management is begging for more workers.  Something will have to give with the question not being what but when.  Regardless, today everyone simply watches and waits.  Those who like to gamble may do so but keep in mind, the employment numbers can be very volatile.  There was no reason to have such a low gain in August and if it was just a seasonal adjustment issue, then we could get some make-up in September.  That would imply the likelihood is that the number will surprise on the upside than the downside.