Observations of the Unemployment Trend

The US Unemployment Rate measures the percentage of total employees in the United States that are a part of the labor force, but are without a job. It’s one of the most widely followed indicators of the health of the US labor market and the US economy as a whole.

Historically, the US Unemployment Rate reached as high as 10.80% in 1982 and 9.9% in November of 2009, which were recessionary periods.

The US Unemployment Rate is at 8.40%, compared to 10.20% last month and 3.70% this time last year.

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US Unemployment Rate remains significantly higher than the long term average of 5.76%.

The US Labor Force Participation Rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is the sum of total number of employed persons and unemployed persons looking for work in the United States as a percentage of the working age population.

US Labor Force Participation Rate is at 61.70%, compared to 61.40% last month and 63.20% this time last year.

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Looking at the bigger picture over a longer time frame, there has been a negative trend from the 2000s of 67.10% participation to the 2010s 62.50% participation as the boomer generation has begun shifting out of the working age population.

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In bad economic conditions, the labor force participation rate may actually fall as people eventually give up looking for a job.

So, the employment situation seems to be improving, but we’re likely to see some of these job losses become permanent.

Mike Shell is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Global TacticalMike Shell and Shell Capital Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor focused on asymmetric risk-reward and absolute return strategies and provides investment advice and portfolio management only to clients with a signed and executed investment management agreement. The observations shared on this website are for general information only and should not be construed as advice to buy or sell any security. Securities reflected are not intended to represent any client holdings or any recommendations made by the firm. Any opinions expressed may change as subsequent conditions change.  Do not make any investment decisions based on such information as it is subject to change. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information and data are deemed reliable but is not guaranteed and should be independently verified. The presence of this website on the Internet shall in no direct or indirect way raise an implication that Shell Capital Management, LLC is offering to sell or soliciting to sell advisory services to residents of any state in which the firm is not registered as an investment advisor. The views and opinions expressed in ASYMMETRY® Observations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect a position of  Shell Capital Management, LLC. The use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

Has the economy lost momentum?

I pay more attention to macroeconomic trends when we are in a recession.

Though my tactical investment decisions are driven by the direction of price trends, momentum, sentiment, and volatility, it’s useful to take a moment to see what in the world is going on.

Clearly, employment and payrolls seem to be one of the main macroeconomic risks right now.

The July ADP employment report showed private employment increased by 167,000, far less than the expectations of the street of 1.2 million. It’s a big disappointment.

Today, we see the US Continuing Claims for Unemployment Insurance is at a current level of 16.11 million, down from 16.95 million last week, which is a change of -4.98% from last week and -35% from the peak in May.

For a long term perspective, here is US Continuing Claims for Unemployment Insurance going back to 1967, the past 53 years. It averaged 2.8 million over the period, reached 10 times higher than average, and is still 5 times higher than the long term average.

Of course, the average over 53 years doesn’t mean much when such an outlier is present, but maybe it helps put the trend into perspective.

Prior to now, the highest continuing claims for unemployment insurance from the Department of Labor was 6.6 million. That’s 10 million less than now. So, for perspective, todays level is nearly three times what it was at the peak in 2009. Said another way, the worst claims for unemployment insurance in 2009 was only 1/3 of today.

But hey, today’s 16.1 million is better than the peak at 25 million just a few months ago.

By the way, that 25 million was more than four times the highest level it reached in 2009.

So yeah, employment is an issue that certainly has my attention as a macroeconomic trend guy.

Next up is US Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance. US Initial Jobless Claims, as tracked and reported by the US Department of Labor, provides data on how many new people have filed for unemployment benefits in the previous week. It allows us to gauge economic conditions in regard to employment.

As more new people file for unemployment benefits, fewer people in the economy have jobs. Of course, initial jobless claims tended to peak at the end of recessionary periods such as the last cycle peak on March 21, 2009 when it reached 661,000 new filings.


US Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance is at a current level of 1.186 million, which is nearly double the 2009 peak, but it’s -83% below the stunning March 2020 high of 6.8 million.

I know I just shared some of these numbers a few days ago, but these are updated data this morning.

The next big issue I think we’ll see comes tomorrow.

If tomorrows payroll numbers are similar to these ADP numbers, the job growth will be way below Wall Street expectations of 1.5 million.

We’ll see how it unfolds in the morning.

In the meantime, the resiliency of US stock market has been remarkable. Though anyone paying attention knows the driver is the US government intervention, the S&P 500 has now recovered from its -34% loss in March.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average remains about -5% from the February peak.

The equal weight S&P 500, which gives far more weighting to the smaller and mid size stocks, is about -6.4% from its prior high.

To the layman, it would seem the stock market has all but recovered.

If we didn’t know better, the bear market is over.

Do we know better? or is it over?

Will 2020 go down as the sharpest decline in modern history and the fastest recovery?

We’ll see.

But, over the long run, the stock market is driven by fundamentals. The challenge with fundaments like earnings growth, dividend yield, and the price-to-earnings multiple (optimism) they trade at.

Here is a chart of the rate of change of the S&P 500 price trend normalized with the Shiller S&P 500 CAPE Ratio, which is a measure of valuation. I’ve pointed out many times the valuation level was extremely high, though it has been since 2013. Look when it peaked in the relative chart compared to the SPX at the start of 2018.

What’s happened since then?

Swings.

Massive swings.

And sharp sudden drawdowns.

While the S&P 500 Shiller CAPE Ratio is now down to about 30, which is -10% below where it was at the start of 2018, the valuation level is still as high as it was before the Great Depression.

The markets are going to swing up and down and motivate a lot of mistakes along the way, but if history is a guide, we may be in for a much longer bear market and recession than is currently reflected.

You can probably see why my investment strategy is unconstrained, so I can go anywhere, including cash and treasuries, and apply different tactics for tactical decisions in pursuit of asymmetric risk/reward.

It’s never perfect, but I just keep doing what I do.

In hindsight, I’ve been underinvested in stocks the past few weeks, but we’ll see how it plays out from here.

Mike Shell is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Global TacticalMike Shell and Shell Capital Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor focused on asymmetric risk-reward and absolute return strategies and provides investment advice and portfolio management only to clients with a signed and executed investment management agreement. The observations shared on this website are for general information only and should not be construed as advice to buy or sell any security. Securities reflected are not intended to represent any client holdings or any recommendations made by the firm. Any opinions expressed may change as subsequent conditions change.  Do not make any investment decisions based on such information as it is subject to change. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information and data are deemed reliable but is not guaranteed and should be independently verified. The presence of this website on the Internet shall in no direct or indirect way raise an implication that Shell Capital Management, LLC is offering to sell or soliciting to sell advisory services to residents of any state in which the firm is not registered as an investment advisor. The views and opinions expressed in ASYMMETRY® Observations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect a position of  Shell Capital Management, LLC. The use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.

The US Unemployment Situation is Stunning

US Initial Jobless Claims, provided by the US Department of Labor, provides underlying data on how many new people have filed for unemployment benefits in the previous week.

We can gauge economic conditions with respect to employment.

As more new individuals file for unemployment benefits, fewer individuals in the economy have jobs.

For example, initial jobless claims have tended to reach a cycle peak at the end of recessionary periods. For example, near the end of the last recession, on March 21, 2009 there were 661,000 new filings.

US Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance is at a current level of US Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance is at a current level of 1.434 million, which is an increase 592.8% from one year ago.

But, if it makes you feel any better, US Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance are down -79% from its March 2020 high.

So, US Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance is up 576% from the beginning of 2020, though it was up over 3,000% in March.

The US Unemployment Rate measures the percentage of total employees in the United States that are a part of the labor force, but are without a job.

The US Unemployment Rate is one of the most widely followed indicators of the health of the US labor market and the US economy as a whole.

Historically, the US Unemployment Rate has reached as high as 10.80% in 1982 and 9.9% in November of 2009.

Both periods were significant recessionary periods.

US Unemployment Rate is at 11.10%, compared to 13.30% last month and 3.70% last year. It is much higher than the long term average of 5.75%.

The US Unemployment Rate at 14.7% was by far the highest it has been in 72 years according the the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At 11.10% the US Unemployment Rate is still higher than the prior peak in 1982.

I know most people were shocked by this spike in unemployment, and of course, much of it was driven by the Coronavirus pandemic, but it’s also just the market, doing what it does.

For example, I shared in an observation here on December 29, 2019 in “Asymmetry in yield spreads, inverted yield curve warning shot, and unemployment” when I shared the following in regard to what was then an extremely low unemployment rate.

“The yield curve inversion doesn’t automatically mean a recession is in the near future.

Employment is essential, too. The U.S. Unemployment Rate is about as low as it’s ever been.”

“As with all cycles, it isn’t the extremely low level of the cycle we should focus on, but what’s more likely to happen next. It should be no surprise that low unemployment precedes recessions.”

But, I’ll close this observation with the same one I did this one last December.

For me, the directional trend of the stock market will be my primary guide for the economy but I monitor many trends for situational awareness of what is going on.

I hope all is well with all of you and you are avoiding COVID-19 like the plague.

Mike Shell is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Global TacticalMike Shell and Shell Capital Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor focused on asymmetric risk-reward and absolute return strategies and provides investment advice and portfolio management only to clients with a signed and executed investment management agreement. The observations shared on this website are for general information only and should not be construed as advice to buy or sell any security. Securities reflected are not intended to represent any client holdings or any recommendations made by the firm. Any opinions expressed may change as subsequent conditions change.  Do not make any investment decisions based on such information as it is subject to change. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information and data are deemed reliable but is not guaranteed and should be independently verified. The presence of this website on the Internet shall in no direct or indirect way raise an implication that Shell Capital Management, LLC is offering to sell or soliciting to sell advisory services to residents of any state in which the firm is not registered as an investment advisor. The views and opinions expressed in ASYMMETRY® Observations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect a position of  Shell Capital Management, LLC. The use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.