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My Favorite Statistics

Someone once asked PIMCO’s bond king, Bill Gross, if he were stranded on a desert island and could get only one statistic on which to base investment decisions, what would it be? He didn’t hesitate. Initial claims for unemployment insurance, released by the Labor Department every Thursday at 8:30 am EST, gives the best real time snapshot of economic activity. With traders on tenterhooks regarding the near term outlook for jobs, and a fractious midterm election looming, these data are about to become more important than ever. During the first half of 2009, more than 600,000 new claims a week were common. Since then, they have dropped to a still serious 450,000/week, indicating, at best, a tepid recovery. When claims drop below 400,000, the unemployment rate will stop rising, below 350,000 a recovery is in progress, and below 300,000 the boom times are back. The US is unique in seeing a large amount of job switching, even in good times. Keep those eyeballs glued to your screens on Thursday mornings.