The employment report does not look pretty

Here's how to read it.

On the face of it, parts of August’s U.S. employment report, released on September 6th, don’t look too pretty.

Non-farm payrolls increased by a tad less than expected, (but only missed by a paltry 11,000), and there were revisions down totalling 74,000 to the previous two months’ figures, and at first sight the reasons for the drop in the headline level of employment from 7.4 per cent to 7.3 per cent look disappointing, in that the fall was driven by a drop of 312,000 in the labour force seeking work, whilst the numbers of those in work actually declined by only 115,000, but look closer and you discover that the number of people who aren't working, but would like to be, actually collapsed by 334,000 in August! Think about that. What that is telling us is that work patterns are changing-there are more who want to work only part-time and this fall is also evidence of something much more important to the Fed-a structural change in the U.S. economy that implies it is not going to be able to employ as many people, even when it is growing full tilt-maybe the famous, but enormously difficult to measure, output gap, has shrunk.

The so-called Household Survey of employment, which kicks out the headline unemployment rate, is notoriously volatile, when compared to the Establishment Survey from which non-farm payroll changes are calculated.

The above goes part of the way to explain why I feel these figures weren’t weak enough to stop the Fed tapering down its purchases of US Treasuries, (not Mortgage Bonds), at its 18 Sept. meeting. They may lead to a smaller reduction in purchases, but even that may not be the case. Why?

Well, even parts of the Household Survey were positive-average hourly earnings ticked up from flat in July, (initially reported as -0.1 per cent), to +0.2 per cent, and the average workweek increased from 34.4 hours to 34.5. The broader U6 measure of unemployment fell even further, to 13.7 per cent, from 14.0 per cent. Remember, the Fed told us it wouldn’t just look at the headline figure, but that it would drill down into its composition and look at other labour market indicators.

Just as importantly however, (especially given the volatility and margin for error of the employment survey), we have to remember that recently we have been treated to a veritable slew of positive data surprises, including a drop in the 4-week moving average of those making initial jobless claims to 329,000; a new post-recession low. Other good news has come in the shape of better than expected releases for Existing Home sales, Consumer Confidence, Vehicle Sales and, most encouragingly, as they are forward-looking indicators, the Institute of Supply Managers’ surveys of sentiment in both the manufacturing and services sectors.

None of the above should stand in the way of further advances for developed market equities. Yields are normalising for "good" reasons, and the Fed has done a good job in ensuring they don’t surprise us with their first steps towards tightening-this is not a repeat of 1994’s bond market rout.

Photograph: Getty Images

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.