By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor
The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index, which is always released right after the official U.S. monthly employment numbers, dropped slightly to 100.8 in August, compared with a revised July figure of 101. Remarkably, as bad as things now seem, the August 2011 figure is 4.1 percent above that of August 2010—when employers were likewise nervous about European debt and other financial shenanigans.
This month’s decrease was spurred by negative contributions from six out of the index’s eight components. The anemic indicators included the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Survey “Jobs Hard to Get,” Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance, Part-Time Workers for Economic Reasons, Job Openings, Industrial Production and Real Manufacturing and Trade Sales.
Declining the index may be, but the Conference Board doesn’t believe a new recession is necessarily in store. “While the Employment Trends Index has been on a slightly declining trend in recent months, the decline in the index is still not as strong as it was in the months leading to previous recessions,” Gad Levanon, associate director of macroeconomic research at the Conference Board, noted in a statement. “We still expect the economy to moderately add jobs in the next several months, but not fast enough to lower the unemployment rate.”
ISM Non-Manufacturing Index inches upward
A separate index was slightly optimistic on Tuesday as well: the one found in latest Non-Manufacturing ISM Report On Business. According to the report, the non-manufacturing index registered 53.3 percent in August, 0.6 percentage points higher than in July.
The 10 non-manufacturing industries reporting growth in August, based on the NMI composite index, are mining; information; retail trade; wholesale trade; transportation and warehousing; accommodation and food services; agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting; utilities; public administration; and professional, scientific and technical services. The five industries reporting contraction in August are educational services; arts, entertainment and recreation; management of companies and support services; health care and social assistance (surprisingly); and finance and insurance (not so surprisingly).
The ISM Report On Business also touched on the commodity prices that U.S. business face (commodities in the broadest sense: anything one has to pay for, in other words). A lot of prices were up—an incomplete list includes airfare, computers, copper, cotton, food and beverage, gasoline, labor, plastics and pickup trucks. Being volatile, some of those same commodities were also reported as being down in price, such as airfares, cotton and gas. “Helium,” the report said “is the only commodity reported in short supply,” which is bad news for manufacturers of superconducting magnets, arc welders and birthday-party clowns.
German high court to rule on bailouts
The German Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht)—in some ways the Federal Republic’s equivalent of the Supreme Court—will rule shortly on whether the German contributions to the bailout of Greece and other euro-zone basket cases are constitutional. The bailouts are unpopular in Germany, of course, but the court will probably not factor that into its decision. Observers of German jurisprudence expect the court to uphold the nation’s participation in euro-zone bailouts, specifically through the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).
So far Germany has ponied up about a quarter of the EFSF. The plaintiffs in the case, five academics and a Bavarian politician, assert that giving such sums to foreigners is unconstitutional, since the constitution is supposed to protect property. If the plaintiffs happen to prevail, that would throw a rather large monkey wrench in plans to expand German participation in the EFSF, a move that’s slated for a vote in the German parliament at the end of September.
Wall Street had a downer of a day on Tuesday, but perhaps not as much as expected, given the sour employment numbers and the hubbub in Europe. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 100.96 points, or 0.9 percent, while the S&P 500 was down 0.74 percent. Investors weren’t so down on tech stocks, however, since the Nasdaq lost only 0.26 percent.