Employment Shortfall Sets the Stage for Slowdown in U.S. Economic Recovery

The U.S. recovery is poised to slow in the second half of 2010 after smaller-than-forecast growth in private payrolls for June capped a month of data indicating weakness in industries from housing to manufacturing.

Employment fell by 125,000 workers, the first drop this year, reflecting government census cutbacks, while companies added 83,000 to payrolls, Labor Department figures in Washington showed yesterday. Reports last month showed a plunge in home sales, a slump in consumer confidence, cooler manufacturing and less growth in the first quarter.

The lack of jobs will curtail consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the world’s largest economy, and restrain sales at retailers including Barnes & Noble Inc. The rebound from the worst recession since the 1930s faces risks from the European debt crisis and slower growth in China at the same time that fiscal stimulus measures fade.

“Consumer spending will continue to be quite modest,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS in Lexington, Massachusetts. “We are still paying the price for this big financial crisis we’ve been through. Credit is still tight and housing is suffering.”

The jobless rate fell to 9.5 percent, the lowest level since July 2009, from 9.7 percent in May. The decline reflected a 652,000 decrease in the size of the labor force. Economists called for the jobless rate to rise to 9.8 percent, according to a Bloomberg News survey.

Protracted Rebound

The pace of hiring signals it will take years for the U.S. to recover the more than 8 million jobs lost during the recession that began in December 2007.

Economists projected overall payrolls would decline by 130,000, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey. The government cut 225,000 temporary workers conducting the 2010 census. Private payrolls were forecast to rise 110,000.

The U.S. faces headwinds from abroad as a slowdown in China and Europe threaten demand for American exports. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. this week cut its forecast for 2010 growth in China to 10.1 percent from 11.4 percent as government restrictions on lending and real estate slow expansion in the world’s fastest- growing major economy.

The European debt crisis and signs of a global slowdown are weighing on U.S. stocks. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index dropped 12 percent from April through June, breaking a four-quarter winning streak that sent the benchmark gauge up 47 percent. The drop was the biggest since the last three months of 2008. Treasury securities soared, sending the yield on the benchmark 10-year note down to 2.93 percent at the close on June 30 compared with 3.83 percent on March 31.

Fed Action

Federal Reserve policy makers last month repeated their pledge to keep the benchmark interest rate near a record low for an “extended period” and warned that financial-market turmoil linked to the European sovereign-debt crisis may harm U.S. growth.

Other countries are raising rates. India’s central bank increased its target rate for the third time this year in an unscheduled announcement yesterday as inflation pressures from faster economic growth outweighed risks from Europe.

Some economists, such as Jeffrey Frankel, a member of the National Bureau of Economic Research’s panel that dates U.S. business cycles, say recent data raise the risk of dipping back into a recession.

“You cannot rule out a double dip, in light of Europe’s problems,” said Frankel, who is also a Harvard University professor. “The biggest cloud on the horizon globally is the spillover of sovereign debt concerns from Greece. I think the next couple months of indicators will be more telling than the last couple months.”

Manufacturing Cools

Manufacturing, which accounts for about 11 percent of the economy, helped lead the U.S. out of recession during the second half of last year. Those gains may slacken as the industry cools. A report this week from the Institute for Supply Management showed manufacturing expanded in June at the slowest pace this year as orders and exports cooled.

“Everything we have seen in the last several weeks, plus the continued contraction in total bank credit and weak money supply growth, all suggest the economy is losing altitude,” said Paul Kasriel, chief economist at the Northern Trust Corp. in Chicago. “It is not that it will hit the deck; it is adjusting to an even slower rate of growth in the second half of the year.”

Best Buy Co., the world’s largest consumer-electronics retailer, last month reported first-quarter profit that rose less than analysts projected as some U.S. shoppers bought fewer games and movies. Declines in hours worked and earnings make it more likely consumers will pull back further.

Hours, Earnings

The average work week for all workers declined to 34.1 hours in June from 34.2 hours the prior month, yesterday’s report showed. Average hourly earnings fell 2 cents to $22.53.

“The risk of a double dip is still uncomfortably high, with little left in our arsenal of fiscal and monetary stimulus to fight it,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist of Chicago- based Mesirow Financial Holdings Inc. “It is a bit like being stuck in a traffic jam. We are moving forward, but at such a slow pace it is causing more frustration and tension than sense of progress.”

The economy, employment and the budget deficit are likely to be the main campaign issues leading up to the November elections that will decide which political party controls Congress. The Obama administration is already facing public pessimism about the state of the labor market.

“Make no mistake, we are headed in the right direction,” President Barack Obama said yesterday after the employment report. “We are not headed there fast enough for a lot of Americans. We’re not headed there fast enough for me either.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Timothy R. Homan in Washington at thoman1@bloomberg.net; Steve Matthews in Atlanta at smatthews@bloomberg.net

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