Sunday, December 12, 2010

Where the experts get their expertise

They come out like clockwork -- dozens of government and private economic reports, covering everything from bond sales to mortgage approvals, Russell Pearlman of Smart Money writes. Traders fixate on them, often enough to move the markets as they react to employment numbers or consumer-confidence surveys.

But the prediction game is shifting, he says, with a growing number of money managers searching for hidden nuggets that might offer insight into where the economy is headed and how fast.

Here are a few numbers the experts follow. These relate to employment. More at the link.
Hours Worked

Better than: number of people hired.

On the first Friday of each month, the nation learns (and agonizes over) how many people gained or lost a job in the previous month.

But many pros think another stat in the government jobs report -- average number of hours worked -- is more important. When business picks up, these pros explain, employers usually make existing workers log more hours before hiring new recruits.

Lately, the overall news hasn't been great: In November, Americans averaged 34.3 hours a week, still below the 35 hours when the recession started.

But the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( also breaks down hours worked by industry, which can enable investors to get a jump on spotting a hot sector. In July 2009, for example, manufacturing workers began spending more time at the factory -- and manufacturing stocks proceeded to trounce the broader market.


Better than: unemployment rate.

While the unemployment rate shows how many people aren't working, the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey shows how many are starting or leaving a job. According to the most recent data, 3.2% of American workers started a new job in October, while 3.1% left their job. In a fully healthy economy, a lot more people will be starting a job than leaving one. Still, the Jolts data currently paint a slightly more upbeat picture than the unemployment rate.

By watching this ebb and flow, some investors say they get a sense of the economy's health before the herd does. In the summer of 2007, for example, Jolts indicated that fewer people were starting jobs -- something some analysts now see as a premonition of the crash. Jared Franz, an economist at T. Rowe Price, says that these days he's "banging the table" about Jolts to T. Rowe's bond managers.

No comments:

Post a Comment