Friday, March 07, 2008

Batten Down The Hatches

Tough times ahead.

The February job numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics today showed nonfarm payrolls fell by 63,000 last month, the worst showing in five years.

Payroll numbers were also revised downward for December and January.

There have now been two consecutive months of negative job growth.

Economists had been expecting job growth between 20,000 and 50,000 for the month.

How did economists react to the bad job numbers? Here's a taste:

"Turn out the lights the party's over," wrote Joseph Brusuelas, U.S. chief economist for IDEAglobal. "We are in a recession."

"Folks, based on today's employment report, if we are not in a recession, it is a darned good imitation of one; we are in an unprecedented real estate and credit crisis that is whipping its way through the U.S. economy," said Kevin Giddis, managing director, fixed income trading, Morgan Keegan & Co.

The unemployment rate actually fell for the month of February, but that's because the job climate is so bad that many Americans simply stopped looking for work and weren't counted in the statistics.

I guess that's one way to lower the unemployment rate.

The bad economic news didn't stop there.

The Federal Reserve reported Thursday that Americans were poorer at the end of 2007 than they were the year before:

The net worth of U.S. households fell by $533 billion, or a 3.6% annual rate, in the fourth quarter of 2007, the first time total wealth has fallen since late 2002, the Fed said.

For all of 2007, household net worth rose 3.4% to $57.7 trillion, the slowest growth in five years. After the effects of 4.1% inflation are included, real net worth fell for the year.

The Wall Street Journal reports that more Americans are working multiple part-time jobs in order to make ends meet as salaries fall and job security disappears:

More and more people are working part-time jobs for economic reasons, rather than by choice. That figure rose by 100,000 in February for the second month in a row, the Labor Department reported yesterday, bringing it to 4.79 million -- compared to 4.13 million a year ago, and the highest since 1993.

More people also are holding multiple part-time jobs out of economic need. In 2007, an average of 1.8 million people held two jobs for that reason, the highest since the government began regularly tracking the statistic in 1994. The growth was largely fueled by women, who overtook men to make up the majority of the multiple-job market for the first time, according to a labor bureau study.

Even the investor class is taking a hit these days.

Stocks ended lower for the week, with the Dow Jones Industrials (11,894) down 1,370 points since the start of the year (-10%) and down more than 2,300 points since the all-time high reached last October. The S&P and Nasdaq also are down sharply for the year.

With the housing market continuing to tank in all areas around the country except for Manhattan, it looks like economic conditions are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Increasing foreclosure rates are likely to increase the problem:

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) -- More foreclosure records were broken in the fourth quarter of 2007, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported on Thursday.

The rate of mortgages entering foreclosure was at it highest level in the history of the MBA's quarterly national delinquency survey and the percent of loans somewhere in the foreclosure process also hit its highest level.

The delinquency rate of loans past due but not in foreclosure was at its highest since 1985.

Rising right along with the foreclosure and delinquency rates are commodity prices. Oil remains over $105 a barrel and Goldman Sachs said Friday that $200 a barrel oil could be a possibility.

And of course food prices have increased dramatically in the last few months:

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- The soaring cost of grains, dairy products and other edible commodities continues to pile up on consumers as producers seek to dull the impact of higher prices on their own bottom lines, according to scanner data from U.S. supermarkets.

According to Citigroup, which based its research on AC Nielsen data, food categories with the biggest price spikes for the 12 weeks ended Feb. 23 were:

Cheese, up 14.1%
Yogurt, up 8.3%
Ground coffee, up 7.1%
Frozen pizza, up 5.5%

Food makers have been boosting product prices to offset the surging cost of ingredients. Corn, wheat, soybeans and cocoa are all trading at or near record highs.

Tough times indeed.

Of course, the White House says everything is fine and the president's got it all under control - the $600 rebate checks are going to be in the mail soon.

Yeah, that should solve all the economic problems the country's facing.

How far do you think $600 goes these days?

I'm betting not too far.
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