Array of “Soft” Economic Reports to Please Any Wonk

If you are wonky about economic indicators and labor market stats, this is your lucky week. No fewer than than three reports came out today; one came out Monday; a fifth — the highly anticipated monthly unemployment report — is due out Friday morning.

Today’s reports, considered a help wanted seriesharbinger of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ unemployment report, are decidedly positive in that “less bad” way we’ve been seeing since late summer.

The most authoritative of the reports came from the Federal Reserve, which reported in its so-called Beige Book that “economic conditions continued to expand” in February, despite severe snowstorms that held back activity.

The book,  a summary of economic conditions in the 12 Fed districts, said consumer spending increased, though the snowstorms had a limiting effect. Loan activity was “soft,” said the Fed. “Most Districts indicated that banks remained cautious about lending.”

Not surprisingly, the Fed reported an uptick in hiring or a slowdown in layoffs in some of the federal reserve districts, but “labor markets generally remained soft throughout the nation, which resulted in minimal wage pressures.”

Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, & Christmas confirmed the layoff slowdown in its monthly report. The firm said U.S. employers announced in February the fewest job cuts in some three years. Employers announced 42,090 job reductions last month, the least since July 2006, and down 77 percent from the 186,350 of February 2009.

“Employers have shifted away from downsizing and are poised to start adding workers,” CEO John A. Challenger said in today’s release of the numbers. “It may be a couple of more months before hiring begins to surge.”

Surge might be an optimistic term. Most labor economists expect hiring to grow only slowly. That belief got some props Monday from The Conference Board’s Help Wanted OnLine Data Series. The series reports the number of new and total jobs posted online each month. For February, The Conference Board said the number of job postings declined by 66,900. According to the data, 3.957 million jobs were advertised during the sample period in February.

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A similar analysis by Monster — the Monster Employment Index — is to be released Thursday.

The ADP National Employment Report, based on the payrolls for the millions of workers ADP processes every month, shows nonfarm, private employment dropped by 20,000 workers in February. Another smallest here; the reduction was the lowest in two years.

The ADP report often varies widely from the official BLS report due to the inclusion of government employment and variances in methodology. In the summary, ADP notes that it expects the BLS report to show a larger workforce reduction than its own because of the adverse weather.

These up and down reports, so widely reported in general consumer media, may in part explain one more survey result. Last week’s release of the Consumer Confidence Index showed a sharp drop in February. The Index dropped 10.5 points from the adjusted January number and is now at 46.0.

Says the report: “Those saying jobs are ‘hard to get’ rose to 47.7 percent from 46.5 percent, while those saying jobs are ‘plentiful’ decreased to 3.6 percent from 4.4 percent.”

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


5 Comments on “Array of “Soft” Economic Reports to Please Any Wonk

  1. Our customers and prospects are the most bullish and busy they have been in two years, which is a great thing.

    On the other hand, there are signs everywhere that we are looking at debt-deflation cycle which could keep any real recovery in the wide economy from occuring for some time. States and pension funds are all in very bad shape- historic bad shape…..epic bad shape in IL and CA.

    Recruiting might be OK because of demographic and cycle issues with skilled people, even facing economic headwinds, plus most people don’t realize that the American workforce (for domestic recruiting) is one of the hardest-working and most productive in the world whenever there is a level playing-field.

    In other words, things may be weak here for a long time to come, but unlikely to be much better elsewhere except for a bright spot here and there (Canada looks pretty good long term).

    If we get our energy, health, and defense expenses in line, we should be in good shape too. Big if, but high hopes 😉

  2. Todd it would take a freakin miracle to get inflation going right now (using the term correctly not as an increase in prices but as an expansion of money and credit), because nobody wants to borrow and nobody wants to lend.

    Just the decrease in house values alone represents a massive deflation unlikely to be set off by more expensive Wal-Mart junk, which can hardly happen with massive overcapcity everywhere you look except in energy and health……

    I think we are going to have to save and de-leverage ourselves out of this one….hard political choices in the defense and entitlement areas are the only real choices- which will be made for us one way or another….

    Fix healthcare and energy and we have a chance….dont fix them and we will be looking at 80% tax rates just to stay poor…..

  3. “Fix healthcare and energy and we have a chance”

    No socialist takeover by evil Feds! I WANT to pay more for my coverage and copayments and get my coverage cut, and SO DOES EVERYBODY ELSE! God bless the health insurance companies!

    Energy conservation is a subplot by Osama-loving ecofreaks who want to foist evil socialist government through their global-warming conspiracy. You can pry my Hummer out of my cold dead fingers!

    Keith “Don’t Contaminate My Precious Bodily Fluids” Halperin

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