KEY DATA: Openings: +54,000; Hiring: +69,000/ NFIB: +0.1 point
IN A NUTSHELL: “Small businesses remain optimistic and are hiring, even as the labor market tightens.”
WHAT IT MEANS: The August below-expectations jobs report was a disappointment to some but a reality check to others. The simple fact is that firms are hiring but are having massive problems finding workers in an ever-expanding economy. The Job Openings and Labor Turnover report, commonly called JOLTS, is one of the more closely watched releases that the government produces, especially by Fed Chair Yellen. The July report highlighted all the issues in the labor market. Hiring was solid, as we saw with the July jobs report. But more importantly, job openings reached their highest level on record. Firms cannot add workers fast enough to close the needs gap. The job openings rate, which is the number of openings as a percent of employment and openings, was up sharply over the year in a wide variety of industries. One of the problems facing firms is that workers are still pretty much locked into their current positions. The quit rate, which you would expect to rise in a tight labor market, ticked up but remained in the range it has been for the entire year. With companies unwilling to bid for workers from other firms, there is little reason to leave and that is limiting the availability of qualified workers.
Job gains should remain decent going forward as small business optimism is still quite high. The National Federation of Independent Business’ index edged up in August, led by a jump in the percentage of those that felt now is a good time to expand. To do that, firms are looking to invest more, which for small businesses is a strong sign of confidence. Firms would like to hire but labor quality remains a huge problem. Interestingly, while businesses are raising wages, expectations of future increases are falling. Maybe they think they have done enough. I suspect they will be disappointed.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: Until we start getting September numbers, the data will basically be good only for knowing how the condition of the economy going into the hurricanes. But the numbers tell us nothing about what we will see in the next six months. Indeed, it really makes no sense to react to these data. Keep in mind, Texas and Florida have the second and fourth highest state GDPs. Together, they account for about 14% of total U.S. GDP and employment. In other words, when they have problems, it has an impact on national economic activity. And their economies have taken a lickin’, though they will start tickin’ again soon. All we know right now is that going into the hurricanes, the economy was growing at a moderate pace and the labor markets were tight. After the initial downdraft in growth, the rebuilding process will hype spending. Think of all the houses, appliances, furniture, household products, motor vehicles, commercial and industrial buildings and so on have to be replaced. But at the same time, many businesses will never come back and many jobs will be lost permanently. But that would also free up a lot of workers to take other jobs, possibly easing the labor shortage in some areas. So as you can see, how this all shakes out is unclear, but it is likely to add to growth by the end of this year and well into the first half of next.