Hiring and Inflation Held Steady: December 7 – 11

The bloom is off the labor market, while inflation has remained moderate. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending December 11.


Job openings and hiring held steady in October while layoffs increased. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there were a seasonally adjusted 6.652 million open jobs on the final day of the month, up a modest 58,000 for the month but down 9.0 percent from the same month a year ago. Private-sector employers were seeking to fill 5.950 million jobs, increasing 155,000 from September but off 9.1 percent from October 2019. The pace of hiring edged down by 74,000 jobs to 5.886 million (+2.2 percent versus a year earlier). Private-sector employers hired 5.493 million people, a 77,000 job decline from September but a 1.8 percent bump over the previous year. 5.107 million people left their job during October, up 263,000 from the prior month but down 8.5 percent versus a year ago. Layoffs rose to their highest level since July, swelling by 243,000 from September. The count of people quitting their jobs essentially held steady at 3.092 million.

Consumer prices edged up in November… The Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent during the month. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ measure had held steady in October and has risen a tepid 1.2 percent over the past 12 months. Energy prices gained 0.4 percent (gasoline CPI: -0.2 percent) while food prices slipped 0.1 percent (grocery prices: -0.3 percent). Net of energy and food, core CPI advanced 0.2 percent in November and a moderate 1.6 percent over the past year. Rising were prices for transportation services (+1.8 percent), apparel (+0.9 percent), and shelter (+0.1 percent). Prices fell for used cars/trucks (-1.3 percent), medical care commodities (-0.3 percent) and services (-0.1 percent), and new vehicles (-0.1 percent).

…while wholesale prices were mostly stable. The Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand eked out a 0.1 percent increase in November, the smallest increase reported for the Bureau of Labor Statistics data series since April. Core PPI (net of foods, energy, and trade services) edged up 0.1 percent, half of October’s increase.  Wholesale food prices jumped 0.5 percent (thanks to increases for meats and chicken) while those for energy rose 1.2 percent (diesel fuel: +8.4 percent, gasoline: -1.9 percent). PPI for services held steady in November, with trade services PPI off 0.3 percent. Over the past year, PPI for final demand was up a modest 0.8 percent while the 12-month comparable for core PPI was +0.9 percent.

Small business owner sentiment wobbled in November. The Small Business Optimism Index from the National Federation of Independent Business lost 2.6 points during the month to a seasonally adjusted 101.4. The index was at 102.4 one year ago. Seven of ten index components declined in November, including a massive 19-point drop for the measure for economic expectations and a seven-point decrease for expectations to increase inventories. The press release linked the sentiment slip to “major uncertainties” faced by small business owners.

Productivity, like output, surged during the third quarter. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports nonfarm business output surged 43.4 on a seasonally adjusted annualized basis between July and September, while the annualized count of hours worked swelled 37.1 percent. As a result, nonfarm business productivity jumped 4.6 percent during Q3 and was up 4.0 percent from a year earlier. Manufacturing productivity advanced 19.9 percent, but most of the gain was in durable goods, where productivity bloomed by 47.0 percent. Nondurable manufacturing productivity edged up 0.7 percent.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:

  • Jobless Claims (Week ending December 5, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 853,000 (+137,000 vs. the previous week, +616,000 vs. the same week a year earlier). 4-week moving average: 776,000 (+253.9% vs. the same week a year earlier).
  • University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers (December 2020-preliminary, Index of Consumer Sentiment (1966Q1=100), seasonally adjusted): 81.4 (Vs. November 2020: 76.9; Vs. December 2019: 99.3)
  • Consumer Credit (October 2020, Outstanding Non-Real Estate Consumer Credit Balances, seasonally adjusted): $4.164 trillion (+$7.2 billion vs. September 2020, +0.3% vs. October 2019).
  • Wholesale Trade (October 2020, Inventories of Merchant Wholesalers, seasonally adjusted): $649.0 billion (+1.1% vs. September 2020, -2.2% vs. October 2019).
  • Monthly Treasury Statement (November 2020, Federal Budget Surplus/Deficit Over First 2 Months of FY2021): -$429.3 billion (vs. First 2 months of FY2020: -$343.3 billion).

The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Kevin’s current employer. No endorsements are implied.

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