December 12, 2017

A Closely Watched Gauge Suggests Stronger Growth

The Conference Board, a business research group, said on Thursday that its index of leading indicators increased 0.6 percent last month to a reading of 96. There was no change in June and a 0.2 percent increase in May. The index is composed of several previously released pieces of data and can signal economic conditions over the next three to six months.

The solid gain suggests that economic growth is picking up after a weak start. The economy grew at an annual rate of 1.4 percent from January through June. Many economists say that growth could improve to a 2.5 percent rate in the second half of 2013.

The pace of growth measured by the index over the last six months has nearly doubled, “pointing to a gradually strengthening expansion through the end of the year,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, an economist at the Conference Board.

Eight of the 10 components of the index were positive in July. Higher stock prices, more requests for building permits and a decline in weekly applications for unemployment benefits made the biggest contributions.

The only measures to decrease were the average manufacturing workweek and orders for manufactured goods, which signal business investment plans.

A separate report on Thursday showed that the number of Americans applying for jobless benefits rose last week after reaching the lowest level in more than five years. But the broader trend suggests that companies are laying off fewer employees and could step up hiring in the months ahead.

The Labor Department said applications for first-time benefits rose 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 336,000 in the week ended Saturday. The four-week average, which smooths out week-to-week fluctuations, fell 2,250, to 330,500. That is the sixth consecutive decline and the lowest for the average since November 2007.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/23/business/economy/indicators-offer-hope-for-stronger-growth.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Economix Blog: Shorter Hours, but Not for Truckers and Temps

CATHERINE RAMPELL

CATHERINE RAMPELL

Dollars to doughnuts.

One of the more disappointing data points in last Friday’s jobs report was the decline in average weekly hours worked, which fell to 34.4 hours in April from 34.6 hours in March. It’s not clear what was behind the decline, which occurred in multiple industries across the private sector. (The monthly jobs report does not include the length of the workweek for government workers.)

In a note to clients, Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, observed that hours in the retail sector had trended down for the last year, though the numbers had been noisy month-to-month.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, via Haver Analytics. Note that the vertical axis does not start at zero to better show the change. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, via Haver Analytics. Note that the vertical axis does not start at zero to better show the change.

“The relatively poor performance of average hours worked in the retail sector looks odd when we consider that the gains in retail employment in the second half of last year were unusually strong,” he writes. “Normally, we would expect employment and hours worked to be going in the same direction.”

There are different ways to interpret this. One is that, as Mr. Ashworth notes, retailers might be increasingly relying on part-time help to avoid an Affordable Care Act provision that requires businesses with at least 50 full-timers to provide health insurance or pay a penalty (a requirement that kicks in next year, but is based on employment levels this year).

Blessed with more data on their customers, businesses may also be hewing more closely to the idiosyncrasies of consumer demand and staying open longer — and it’s easier to schedule a staff for longer hours of operation if individual employees are working in shorter shifts, according to Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Strangely enough, food services and drinking establishments, which are among those making the most noise about the Affordable Care Act employer mandate, do not seem to have cut down their hours in recent months. That may be because workers in this sector already work relatively short hours (25.6 weekly hours on average for the latest month of data, versus 31.4 weekly hours in retail), Mr. Ashworth says.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, via Haver Analytics. Note that the vertical axis does not start at zero to better show the change. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, via Haver Analytics. Note that the vertical axis does not start at zero to better show the change.

Not all sectors have been paring back hours.

Truck transportation, which has been raising compensation for its workers, has also been expanding their weekly hours:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, via Haver Analytics. Note that the vertical axis does not start at zero to better show the change. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, via Haver Analytics. Note that the vertical axis does not start at zero to better show the change.

And perhaps most strikingly, hours for temp workers have also increased over a different time horizon — not over the last few months, but over the last few years. Temp workers now put in more hours than they did during the prerecession boom years, and their average workweek is now longer than that for the overall private sector. Historically, these provisional workers logged fewer hours than their permanent counterparts.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, via Haver Analytics. Note that the vertical axis does not start at zero to better show the change. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, via Haver Analytics. Note that the vertical axis does not start at zero to better show the change.

These trends may speak to employers’ continued reluctance to make the commitment to permanent hires, even as demand picks up.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/07/shorter-hours-but-not-for-truckers-and-temps/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Egypt Orders Arrest of Satirist for Skits on Islam and Morsi

The satirist, Bassem Youssef, who hosts a widely watched show modeled on “The Daily Show,” has been the subject of numerous legal complaints filed by Islamist lawyers and citizens who took umbrage at Mr. Youssef’s skewering of Egypt’s political class, including Mr. Morsi, his loyalists and the opposition.

But the arrest warrant seemed to represent a sharp escalation of the campaign against Mr. Youssef, with the public prosecutor appointed by Mr. Morsi lending official credence to the complaints. In the nine months since Mr. Morsi took office, his government has been accused of employing the same harsh measures against dissent as did the previous authoritarian leaders, including prosecuting critics, confiscating newspapers and placing sympathetic journalists in state news media organs.

Last week, the public prosecutor, Talaat Ibrahim, ordered the arrest of five anti-Islamist activists on charges that they had used social media to incite violence against the Muslim Brotherhood.

Shortly after the warrant was announced Saturday, Mr. Youssef confirmed on Twitter that he had been summoned and said he intended to visit the prosecutor’s office on Sunday, the beginning of Egypt’s workweek. “Unless they were so kind as to send a police wagon to pick me up today, and save me the transportation,” he added.

It was not immediately clear which episodes of Mr. Youssef’s program, which is watched by millions of people on television or on the Internet, had prompted the warrant. Al Ahram, the state newspaper, said Saturday that prosecutors had considered the testimony of 28 complainants and had examined four episodes.

One complainant accused Mr. Youssef of denigrating Islam and disturbing security, and demanded that the state take “deterrent measures against him so that others with weak resolve wouldn’t dare to insult Islam.” The unnamed critic also accused the television host of insulting the president, including by “underestimating his stature domestically and abroad.”

While private legal complaints have become fairly commonplace since Egypt’s 2011 uprising, the government has signaled that it takes the threat from Mr. Youssef much more seriously, going so far as to appoint a judge to investigate the complaints against him, according to Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch.

“It means you’re prioritizing the case, and dedicating resources to it,” she said, adding that the public prosecutor had moved aggressively against criminal defamation cases, while ignoring numerous complaints of torture and the use of excessive force by Egypt’s security services. Issuing an arrest warrant — without any reasonable fear that Mr. Youssef was trying to flee the country — “is completely unnecessary and definitely a political escalation,” she said.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/world/middleeast/egypt-orders-arrest-of-satirist-for-skits-on-islam-and-morsi.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bits Blog: Apple Takes Aim at Providers of Underage Laborers

Labor recruiters in China last year knowingly provided underage workers to a supplier that built parts for products from Apple and other companies.

That finding was included in Apple’s 2013 report on labor conditions at its suppliers, where more than 1.5 million workers make or assemble the ingredients that go into the iPhone, iPad and other products. The report, posted late Thursday night, is the latest installment in the company’s annual assessment of how well its suppliers are complying with Apple’s code of conduct, which dictates standards for workplace safety and other labor conditions. The 2013 report is the result of 393 audits at Apple suppliers, the company said.

Apple said it found no cases of underage workers at its final assembly suppliers in 2012 — including big companies like Foxconn — but it discovered such violations deeper within its network of suppliers at subcontractors. Apple described in the report how “dishonest third-party labor agents” in China work to skirt Apple’s policy against underage laborers. In January of last year, Apple said it audited a company that makes circuit board components found in Apple’s and other companies’ products, Guangdong Real Faith Pingzhou Electronics Co., and discovered 74 cases of workers who were under the age of 16.

As part of the investigation, it found that Shenzhen Quanshun Human Resources Co., a large labor agency in China’s Shenzhen and Henan provinces, had provided the children to the maker of circuit board parts, conspiring with their families to forge documents to represent them as older than they were. Apple said it reported the labor agency to the provincial governments, which fined the agency and revoked its license. The children were returned to their families, Apple said in the report.

The report said Apple’s audits showed 92 percent compliance with its policy of a 60-hour maximum workweek.

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/25/apple-targets-providers-of-underage-laborers/?partner=rss&emc=rss

U.S. Economy Added 216,000 Jobs in March; Rate at 8.8%

Turmoil is found in many corners of the global economy, and oil prices have been rising, so economists waited to see if these storms would affect hiring. The answer, so far, appears to be no. The gain in jobs slightly exceeded economists’ expectations.

Manufacturing continued what a few years ago would have been considered an unlikely — if still modest — revival, adding 17,000 jobs. Health care added 37,000 jobs, and professional and business services added another 78,000, although about 37 percent of that came from increases in temporary help. It was the 13th straight month of private-sector job growth.

March’s numbers, however, also offered cautionary signs that the nation’s economic ills are not entirely behind it. The number of long-term unemployed — that is, those jobless for 27 weeks or more — remained painfully high, at more than six million. That is the highest number in a generation.

The small size of the national labor force remains a pressing concern, reflecting discouragement with the prospects for employment. It has shrunk steadily over the past few years, to a point that just 64.2 percent of adults are either in the work force or looking for a job. That is the lowest labor participation rate in a quarter-century. Many economists had forecast that as Americans grew emboldened by signs of new hiring, they would re-enter the work force in greater numbers. That did not happen in March, as the participation rate was unchanged.

The average workweek was also unchanged, at 34.3 hours, and average hourly earnings remained the same. Both are signs of an economy with much slack demand and little upward pressure on wages. In other words, it is the sign of an economy not yet firing on all cylinders. “With excess supply of labor at very high levels, it is unlikely that we are going to see any meaningful acceleration in wage rates anytime soon,” Joshua Shapiro, an economist at MFR Inc., said Friday morning.

State and local governments offer their own slough of despond. Local government has lost 416,000 jobs since an employment peak in September 2008, and shed another 15,000 jobs in March.

As well, the unemployment rate for blacks and Latinos remained high, at 15.5 percent and 11.3 percent, respectively.

Quite a few signs, of late, have pointed to a touch of momentum in the economic recovery. Weekly unemployment claims have declined steadily, from the mid-400,000s to the neighborhood of 388,000 last week. In most historical contexts, the latter would be a grim number so many months after the official end of the recession. But in this slowest and most sluggish of recoveries, it points to fewer layoffs, and more hiring.

Economists are looking for more Americans, like those who have given up looking or who have taken part-time jobs for lack of full-time employment, to find signs of hope.

“I suspect that the workers on the sideline will start coming back in,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute.

The larger question is what the medium-term future augurs, and this month’s report appears to offer less than a definitive answer. Will jobs continue to expand through the spring, and with enough vigor — 300,000 a month, say — to substantially reduce the unemployment rate?

As Ms. Shierholz notes, if the economy adds 200,000 jobs a month, it will be 2019 before it reaches the employment rate that preceded the Great Recession. (Since the recession began in December 2007, the economy has shed more than seven million jobs).

For President Obama, any uptick in employment numbers will offer a welcome ray of sunshine. The Democrats’ big losses in last November’s election were in large part because of the weak economy, and as eyes now turn to 2012, the economy again figures to sit at center stage. And his economists are certain to lay claims to the green shoots spotted in the March report.

  Many economists speak optimistically of the spring, but the outlook grows uncertain after that. The international storm clouds are many — spectacular debt problems in Europe, uprisings sweeping the oil-rich Middle East, and Japan and its many maladies. And then there is the possibility of a government shutdown in Washington, as the Republican-controlled House challenges the White House.

Some of the problems arising from these storms, such as higher oil prices, could take a while to work through the economy and, possibly, to erode consumer confidence.

“The first half of this year will be the best job market that we’ll see in this whole expansion,” said David Levy of the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center. “We’re riding the crest of earnings. But after that, and looking toward 2012, the situation is very questionable.”

 

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/02/business/economy/02jobs.html?partner=rss&emc=rss