"Creep" is the keyword here, not just because of the magnitude of the change but because of the deviant nature of it. The move of this regular measure of the labor market has been less than concerning, if not enthusing, most of the time this year upon report. This week's data point was no different, but given the scope of the whole of economic data, the global macroeconomic and geopolitical backdrop, and the historical nature of the lagging data point, perhaps we should be worried about its creeping. Jay Leno sure was this week - keep reading.
Weekly Jobless Claims for the week ending August 18 rose by 4,000 to 372K. Take note as well that the prior week count was revised 2K higher from the depths of its initial reporting. The four-week moving average for claims increased by 3,750 for the same period, reflecting the longer term creeping of the ominous data point.
Insured unemployment stuck at 2.6% in the August 11 period, as the number people covered increased by 4,000, to more than 3.3 million. However, the number of Americans covered under all programs, which would include the "extensions" program, decreased by 109,812, to fall to 5.6 million. I continue to bring attention to the fact that long-term unemployed Americans keep falling out of the workforce count after their 99 weeks of benefits run out. Those people are less likely to find work than the newly unemployed for various reasons. Some have lost jobs in middle management or in now outsourced or otherwise eliminated roles that will never be renewed.
Layoffs announced over the past week included 20 to 25 people at the high profile "Tonight Show," where Jay Leno reportedly took a pay cut to limit Comcast's (CMCSA) cutbacks (Comcast owns NBC). It made for some good jokes during Jay's monologue, but it's not a funny reality for too many Americans these days. Still, kudos to Jay for the class act move.
Google (GOOG) was in the news for some of its layoffs as well, though it was firing folks overseas at its Motorola China operations; what a turn of events! You'll recall, Google and China have a history, but the actions are part of a broader 20% workforce cut across Motorola Mobility globally. Vestas Wind Systems (OTC:VWDRY) is cutting jobs in Colorado, but those are more than being made up by hiring in North Dakota by natural gas and oil explorers. Though Northern Oil and Gas (NOG) has less than 20 employees, based on its last 10K filing. Apple (AAPL) is taking a bite out of the competition, with workforce reductions at Research in Motion (RIMM), Sony Mobility (SNE), Nokia (NOK) et al because of Steve Jobs' genius. Though Apple is reviewing its retail store model, it has rebuffed rumors of staff cuts. Of course, Apple's reason for cuts would be entirely different than its ailing competitors'.
A few weeks ago, I authored "Sell Stocks on Wednesday Afternoons," an article anticipating the fateful day when weekly jobless claims might once again reach 400K. It's inevitable in my view, and will move stocks on some fateful Thursday. The jobs report has power, as indicated by the decrease in stock futures after the 8:30 release this morning. The SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) is still down a half point at the hour of scribbling here.
Employment servicers get my attention each Thursday, for a best read on how the market is seeing the report.
Company & Ticker
Robert Half (RHI)
Korn Ferry (KFY)
Monster Worldwide (MWW)
Kelly Services (KELYA)
Based on the action, I would say the market is actually gleaning good news from the report. The servicers would be dropping if the claims count were on the increase. Though, Kelly Services offers a sort of counter-play here, as its focus on temporary workers best fits an uncertain environment. Therefore, its decline today is telling, and it makes for my recent case about the U.S. being in denial.