Slower U.S. Capital Investment May Reach Job Market
A slowdown in U.S. business investment may soon hit the job market, further hindering a recovery in the world’s largest economy.
Capital spending, one of the few bright spots in the recovery, declined in July, according to Commerce Department figures released yesterday in Washington. Sales of new homes fell to the lowest level since data began in 1963, another report from the same agency showed, indicating a lack of jobs is crippling housing.
Employers are reluctant to take on more staff until they see more evidence of durable growth, keeping unemployment near a 26-year high and holding back the consumer spending that makes up 70 percent of the economy. A Labor Department report next week may show that private payrolls failed to grow in August for the first time in eight months, said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York.
“If capital spending does weaken further, then that raises some concerns about labor demand and whether firms want to increase hires,” said Feroli, who reckons the odds of a recession have increased in the past two weeks to about one-in- three. A decline in private payrolls “would raise some concern about whether the recovery is proceeding or not. If you see a couple of months of decline you’d be more confident that we actually were in a recession.”
Applications for unemployment benefits dropped by 31,000 last week to 473,000, the Labor Department said today. The weekly average over the past month climbed to the highest level since November even as the latest reading provided some relief that the job market isn’t rapidly deteriorating as the economy slows.
Claims were forecast to fall to 490,000, according to the median estimate of 48 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. Projections ranged from 475,000 to 510,000.
Yesterday’s Commerce Department report showed bookings in July for goods made to last at least three years rose 0.3 percent, compared with the 3 percent median gain forecast in a Bloomberg survey. Excluding transportation equipment, demand fell by the most in more than a year.
Orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, a proxy for future business investment, dropped 8 percent after climbing 3.6 percent in June. Over the past three months, these orders climbed at a 20 percent annual pace, down from a 31 percent gain in the three months to June, signaling companies will rein in investment.
Shipments of those items, used in calculating gross domestic product, decreased 1.5 percent after rising 1 percent in June. A report from the Commerce Department tomorrow may show the economy expanded at a 1.4 percent rate in the second quarter, down from the 2.4 percent pace previously estimated.
“The manufacturing sector that has played a leading role in the economic recovery to date is beginning to ebb,” said John Lonski, chief economist at Moody’s Capital Markets Group in New York, who also put the odds of another economic slump at about one-in-three, twice as high as earlier this year. “That warns of a softening in economic growth in the months ahead.”
Yesterday’s reports put pressure on the Federal Reserve to take additional steps to sustain the recovery from the worst downturn since the 1930s. Policy makers led by Chairman Ben S. Bernanke on Aug. 10 decided to keep the Fed’s holdings of securities stable at $2.05 trillion to prevent money from being drained from the financial system.
Economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. yesterday said in a note to clients that further action from the Fed “will be forthcoming later this year or early next year, as slow growth and rising unemployment raise concerns about a potential double dip,” or a relapse into a recession.
With little more than two months remaining before the midterm elections in which Republicans hope to claim a majority in Congress, some lawmakers are stepping up attacks on Democrats. House Republican leader John Boehner this week called on President Barack Obama to fire Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the other remaining members of the president’s economic team, saying the stimulus policies are failing to create jobs.
Stocks rallied yesterday, erasing earlier losses, and Treasuries dropped on speculation the retreat in riskier assets was overdone given the economic outlook. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.3 percent to 1,055.33 at the 4 p.m. close in New York. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note increased to 2.54 percent from 2.49 percent.
Shares of Manufacturers
Shares of manufacturers are still outperforming the broader market. The Standard & Poor’s Supercomposite Machinery Index is up 5.8 percent so far this year through yesterday, while the S&P 500 is down 5.4 percent.
Cisco Systems Inc., the world’s largest maker of networking equipment, this month forecast first-quarter sales that missed analysts’ estimates. Chief Executive Officer John Chambers said the San Jose, California-based company was seeing “unusual uncertainty” and getting “mixed signals” about the health of the economy.
Michael Hilton, chief executive officer of Nordson Corp., said the company’s customers, while “a little more cautious,” are still placing orders at a robust pace. Bookings at the Westlake, Ohio-based maker of machines that apply adhesives rose 30 percent in the three months ended Aug. 15 from a year earlier.
“The shape of global recovery continues to remain uncertain,” Hilton said on an Aug. 20 conference call with analysts. “Most economists expect slower growth in the second half of the calendar year given the lack of an inventory build and fiscal stimulus, and with China attempting to rein in growth, yet they still project growth and not a double-dip.”
Private payrolls that exclude government agencies rose by 71,000 in July after gaining 31,000 the previous month. Companies added workers at a faster pace earlier this year, boosting payrolls by 158,000 in March and 241,000 in April, according to Labor Department figures.
A survey of economists by Bloomberg this month forecast unemployment will end the year at 9.5 percent, unchanged from the rate in June and July.
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