Where is the recovery in the US job market?

July
10

Written by: Jon McGraw

In the 10 recessions between World War II and 2001, the jobs lost during the recession were fully recovered within 4 years of the previous peak in employment, according to the blog, Calculated Risk. In fact, with the exception of the 2001 recession, the previous 9 recessions had recovered all their lost jobs within a relatively short 2½ years. 

The 2007 recession, however, is a different story.

At its nadir in February 2010, the U.S. economy had shed nearly 9 million jobs from its prior peak, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As of last week’s June employment report, the U.S. economy had recovered less than half of those lost jobs – and we’re more than 4 years removed from the peak employment level of late 2007, according to the BLS.

Why has the jobs recovery from this recession been so painfully slow? Here are several reasons:

(1)   Recoveries from recessions caused by financial crises – like this one – are notoriously slow.

(2)   Extremely high economic policy uncertainty emanating from Washington made corporations cautious in hiring.

(3)   The extension of unemployment benefits to 99 weeks reduced some people’s desire to find new work.

(4)   Uncertainty from events related to the euro crisis dampened business demand and the need for more workers.

Sources: Gary Becker, Nobel Prize Winner and Richard Posner blog; The Wall Street Journal

 There is some good news, though, that could eventually provide a spark for new hiring.

 Corporate profits as a percentage of gross domestic product (the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S.) recently hit an all-time high, according to Business Insider. This means corporate profits are at record levels. On top of that, corporate cash levels have reached historic highs which suggest corporations have plenty of money to reinvest for growth, according to Yahoo! Finance. With corporate profits and balance sheets looking solid, all we have to do is get these companies to start spending some of that cash on new hires. If that happens on a large scale, it could be a huge boost to the economy and the financial markets.  

 

Data as of 7/6/12

1-Week

Y-T-D

1-Year

3-Year

5-Year

10-Year

Standard & Poor’s 500 (Domestic Stocks)

-0.6%

7.7%

0.8%

14.7%

-2.4%

3.3%

DJ Global ex US (Foreign Stocks)

-0.1

1.0

-17.8

5.4

-7.4

4.6

10-year Treasury Note (Yield Only)

1.5

N/A

3.1

3.5

5.2

4.8

Gold (per ounce)

-0.7

0.8

3.9

19.7

19.6

17.7

DJ-UBS Commodity Index

1.1

-2.7

-13.8

5.0

-4.4

3.4

DJ Equity All REIT TR Index

1.2

16.3

10.2

33.2

2.0

10.9

 

INVESTORS HAVE GROWN VERY FICKLE in recent years as measured by how long they hold on to a stock. There was a time when investors were really investors and bought a stock for the long run. In fact, between 1940 and 1975, the average length of time a New York Stock Exchange stock was held before it was sold was almost 7 years, according to data from the New York Stock Exchange as reported by a September 2010 Top Foreign Stocks blog post. By 1987, it had dropped to less than 2 years. And, in the highly volatile year of 2008, the average holding period was less than 9 months, according to The New York Stock Exchange.

So, does this fast trading result in better returns?

A highly quoted study by Brad Barber and Terrance Odean of University of California-Davis published in April 2000 analyzed the results of nearly 2 million trades from a discount brokerage firm between 1991 and 1996. The study concluded that the 20 percent of investors who traded the most frequently underperformed the 20 percent of investors who traded the least frequently by a whopping 7.1 percentage points on an annualized basis after expenses.

The main conclusion of the study was, “Trading is hazardous to your wealth.”

One very interesting tidbit from the study was the gross returns between the frequent and infrequent traders were basically the same. In other words, stock selection was not a problem for the fast traders; rather, it was the expenses of the frequent trading that caused their net returns to lag far behind the infrequent traders.

From a practical standpoint, selling a stock is necessary from time to time. The study simply drives home the point that keeping trading costs as low as possible is critical to having net returns come close to gross returns.

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 “Learn every day, but especially from the experiences of others. It’s cheaper!”  John Bogle, founder of The Vanguard Group