Thursday, July 15, 2010

Weekly Jobless Claims Likely to be Skewed by Auto Workers Next Few Weeks

With each new data point now a referendum on the future of the U.S. economy, and employment in particular unable to show meaningful improvement, the weekly jobless claims have taken on much more importance than normal the past few months.  As a coincident indicator rather than leading or lagging, a significant drop below 400,000 claims a week has been elusive for the bull case.  That said there is a lot of noise in these figures, as multiple layers of emergency federal benefits have been added on, and seasonal adjustments are also found within the numbers.  These next few weeks have a particularly interesting situation so we'll see if there is some sort of large change today or in the next few weeks.  Why?

Normally mid summer the auto plants shut down for a few weeks for retooling; hence auto workers traditionally file for claims these weeks.  That is seasonally adjusted since it happens year in and year out.  Except for this year.  Both General Motors and Chrysler have decided not to do shutdowns.  Hence the weekly jobless claims will be seasonally adjusted for something that is not happening.

Bottom line?  A clean report on weekly claims won't be available to us until August so ignore any mass hysteria caused by this quirk.

(As an aside, with census workers being liquidated, some portion - who knows what percent - will be able to file new claims, so this once in a decade situation may skew numbers in the other direction as well.)


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