Digger Deeper Into Unemployment and Inflation

John Smith
January 1, 2023
5 min read

After the market closures on Monday in honor of the Labor Day holiday, the economic calendar was relatively quiet. But there were several important headlines regarding unemployment and inflation.

Plus, evidence of low supply and high demand continues in the housing market. For the fourth consecutive month, over half of home offers from Redfin faced a bidding war, with 54.5% of homes sold in a bidding war in August. This was a slight drop from 57.3% in July, but still a significant amount.

Looking Beneath the Headlines on Jobless Claims

Jobless Claims Week of September 5, 2020

Another 884,000 people filed for unemployment benefits for the first time during the week ending September 5, which was unchanged from the previous week. California (+237K), Texas (+66K) and New York (+65K) reported the largest gains. However, Continuing Claims, which measure people who continue to receive benefits, increased by 93,000 to 13.4 million.

While the media has celebrated the fact that Initial Jobless Claims are under 1 million, it's important to take a step back and ask: Are things really getting better?

The headline jobless claims figures do not count Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Claims. People can apply for PUA benefits when regular unemployment benefits expire. PUA benefits are also for people like gig workers and contractors who usually would not be approved for unemployment benefits.

Initial PUA Claims, which again are separate and in addition to the headline figures, totaled 839,000 in the latest week. Continuing PUA Claims increased by 1 million after increasing by 2.6 million in the previous week.

Given that it's September, it's possible many people are applying for PUA benefits because their regular benefits have expired. If this is the case, we're not really seeing an improvement in unemployment, but rather a transfer of people from regular to PUA benefits.

All in all, the total number of people receiving some type of benefits is around 29 million, which would bring the real-time estimate of the unemployment rate to around 17%.

Inflation Heats Up

Inflation was on the rise in August at both the wholesale and consumer levels. The wholesale-measuring Producer Price Index (PPI) showed that headline PPI increased 0.3% in August from July, which was slightly higher than the 0.2% expected. On a year over year basis, headline PPI increased from -0.4% to -0.2%. Core PPI, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, was up 0.4% in August and increased from 0.3% to 0.6% year over year.

The more closely watched Consumer Price Index (CPI) came in at 0.4% in August, while the year over year reading increased from 1.0% to 1.3%. The Core reading, which again strips out food and energy prices, also increased by 0.4% month over month and the year over year reading increased from 1.6% to 1.7%. Within the report, rents are rising 2.9% across the US, which is down from 3.1%. The medical care index rose 4.5% from last year.

Inflation has been rising sharply, especially on a month over month basis. If we saw 0.4% inflation each month, it would equate to a 5% inflation rate. For now, the year over year Core CPI reading is 1.7%, but it's the hottest it's been in 6 months. This rate could continue to rise, especially as the economy opens back up. Demand is likely to come much faster than supply, as we know supply chains have been compromised. If that were to occur, rates can rise.

Remember, inflation is the arch enemy of fixed investments like Mortgage Bonds because it reduces their value. Home loan rates are inversely tied to Mortgage Bonds, and as Bonds worsen or move lower, home loan rates can rise. Though many factors impact the markets, this is why it's always important to keep an eye on inflation headlines.

Small Business Optimism Rises in August

The National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Index rose 1.4 points in August to 100.2. Plans to hire, positions not able to fill, and plans to increase inventory all rose, while capital spending plans were unchanged. Current compensation rose 3 points to a 5-month high, but future compensation plans were unchanged.

The NFIB’s chief economist, Bill Dunkelberg, said, "Small businesses are working hard to recover from the state shutdowns and effects of COVID. We are seeing areas
of improvement in the small business economy, as job openings and plans to hire are increasing, but many small businesses are still struggling and are uncertain about what the future will hold."

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