Systemic Risk Factor #1: Jobs

On June 19, 2009, a premiere economic consulting firm (not to be named) forecasted a job loss of 275,000 in June.

To me, this seemed odd. The May drop of “only” 345,000 jobs (unrevised) seemed like noisy data. There was no substantial change in Initial Claims for unemployment insurance. Initial claims were running more than 600,000. The ADP also remained at an elevated level. The May ADP number showed a job loss of 532,000. Why should a lower reading be repeated in June?

We are in the mode of seizing any piece of good news as evidence of the turning point. So what, if the May Non-Farm Payroll number was inconsistent with Initial Claims and the ADP? A green shoot is a green shoot.

Throughout June, nothing really changed on the employment front. People viewed it as good news that initial claims were running in the 610,000 range rather than the 640,000. We were going to see a much better number for June. As I said, as of June 19, the Non-Farm Payroll loss was pegged at 275,000.

But 610,000 Initial Claims, while better than 640,000, is still terrible news. The ADP on Wednesday completely deflated the unrealistic expectation of a substantial turnaround. The ADP came in at a job loss of 473,000. Economists quickly revised their expectations.

The job loss today of 467,000 was no surprise to me (and to readers of my blog). This is consistent with the forecast made by CFOs in the latest Duke-CFO survey. The CFO survey, conducted in May 2009, suggested that private sector jobs would be scaled back by a staggering 5.6% over the next 12 months. Given the addition of public sector jobs, I estimated the net job loss over the next 12 months to be 4 million (this assumes 2 million public sector jobs are created). We are 1/5th of the way there (May+June losses divided by 4 million).


  • We have lost 6.46 million jobs in this recession
  • We have lost more jobs in this recession than double the sum of the previous two recessions!
  • We are 400,000 job losses away from the worst job loss situation since WWII. Technically, the recession of 1948 is still worse. However, it is a weird recession with one amazingly bad month. The percentage loss of jobs in October 1949 would have caused a print of -2.5 million losses today (in a single month).
  • This ain’t over yet.

The Main Systemic Risk Factor

My main worry is that policy makers and risk managers at financial institutions have greatly underestimated the impact of unemployment on prime mortgages. Given that housing prices are falling at a 19% annual rate and given that many people with prime mortgages are losing their jobs, it makes sense that more and more people will choose to default on their prime mortgages. Note that 20% of homeowners with mortgages are underwater — what they owe on their mortgages exceeds the value of their houses. The assumption of a 2-4% loss on prime mortgages in the Treasury’s adverse stress test scenario seems unrealistic to me.

Increased defaults on prime mortgages could easily cause a second credit crisis.

Remember when the sub-prime crisis started? People initially said it was no big deal because the size of the market was small. Well, it was a very big deal and, yes, the size of the market was small. The prime market is gigantic and a surge in defaults in that market could quickly wipe out the capital of our financial institutions.

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2 Responses to Systemic Risk Factor #1: Jobs

  1. Pingback: Why analyze the economy when Dr. Summers has a “rule-of-thumb” « Resolute Determination

  2. syed husain says:

    The way I see it is that there is some good news, the drop in jobs has tracked the drop in GDP, or if you believe in the Oaken’s Law, the job market has performed even worse than expected. This may mean that when GDP picks up, it may spur faster job growth. Job losses for the rest of the world has not tracked the GDP fall, I suspect they will continue to see some job losses a bit further into the recovery, unless they have some systemic risk of their own that hasn’t been exposed and will lead the rest of the world’s economy to shed more jobs. I agree with you 100%, this isn’t over by a long-shot.

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