New Warning Suggests More Weakness Ahead for Jobs This Winter

The major recovery in the jobs market has started to show fatigue as 2020 comes to an end. That was the case in last week’s unemployment and payrolls report from the U.S. Labor Department. The lower unemployment rate was “juiced” because of a lower participation rate.

A new report from the Conference Board may not seem to be quite as weak as the one from the Labor Department, and some of the data is more recent than the Labor Department’s cut-off date in November. That said, this report contains a warning that the Labor Department does not offer.

The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index rose in November for the seventh consecutive monthly gain. While the Conference Board’s notations confirm the labor market recovery was at a slower pace, the index rose to 98.81 after an upwardly revised 98.32 in October.

Monday’s announcement is taken from eight different labor market indicators. While it is an improvement, and with six of the eight categories still positive, the Conference Board does still point out that the index is currently 10.2% lower than it was in November of 2019.

The Conference Board’s final take from November is that the labor market may be slowing further in the coming months. There was even a warning that the recovery may be coming to a halt. The rising number of COVID-19 cases and more restrictions on consumers were also cited, on top of the uncertainty around additional government stimulus.

A note concerning travel and hospitality was included. The Conference Board noted that the people who work in restaurants, travel, accommodation and out-of-home entertainment are the most affected and that these sectors will be hurt most over the coming months.

As for the official unemployment rate, the Conference Board suggests that its drop may pause during the winter. That said, the Conference Board does expect a sharp decline in unemployment after the large-scale vaccinations will boost the economy.

The largest positive contributors, strongest on down, were from weekly jobless claims, the number of hires within temporary workers, industrial production, positions open and unable to be filled, the percentage of workers who say jobs are hard to get, and then the number of job openings. That leaves the ratio of involuntarily part-time to all part-time workers and the real manufacturing and trade sales as the weak links in November.

The stock market and bond market both seemed to ignore last Friday’s report that only 245,000 nonfarm payrolls were added. This more recent report suggests that December could even be weaker.

Gad Levanon, head of the Conference Board Labor Markets Institute, said of November’s report:

The Employment Trends Index increased again in November, but the pace of improvement has moderated compared to previous months. The index signals that the recovery of the labor market may be slowing further, or even come to a halt, throughout the winter. A rising number of COVID-19 cases, further potential restrictions on consumers’ mobility, and uncertainty around continued government stimulus are risks to a sustained labor market recovery. People working in industries most impacted by restrictions, such as restaurants, travel, accommodation and out-of-home entertainment, will be the most affected over the coming months. As a result, the decline in the unemployment rate may pause during the winter before sharply dropping later in the year after the large-scale vaccination boosts the economy.

Weakness in the equities indexes were not universal on Monday. The tech-heavy Nasdaq was up 0.4% at 12,516, while the Dow Jones industrials were down 0.4% at 30,100 and the S&P 500 was down 0.1% at 3,694.95 in midday trading. The yield on the 10-year Treasury Note was down about four basis points at 0.93%.