Tag Archives: recession

Mining and manufacturing are in recession. Will America follow?

Summary: The mining and manufacturing sectors of the US economy have rolled over. Perma-bear websites publish lurid descriptions of the horrific effect this will have on the US economy. What’s the truth? {2nd of 2 posts today.}


A warning. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan.

(1) The manufacturing collapse

Perma-bears often describe the manufacturing sector as in a downturn, sometimes as in a collapse, sometimes as in a recession. Here are the numbers describing the sector, indexed to the December 2007 peak before the recession. An explanation follows.

FRED: Manufacturing Sector Data

What does this tell us? Looking at these lines describing the manufacturing sector as of December, from top to bottom.

  • Inventories are high and stable.
  • Sales are down 8% from July 2014, and falling.
  • Its industrial production index is down 2% from July 2014, and stable.
  • Employment has grown slowly since March 2010 (+900 thousand); been flat as sales fell.
  • Not shown: average hours worked & overtime hours are flat since 2013.

It’s the new industrial revolution at work: tech and capex boost output without more workers. The level of activity in manufacturing (sales and IP) is back to the 2007 peak, but inventories are 15% above the 2007 peak — but employment is unchanged (increased productivity allowed output to increase without more workers).

What will happen if sales continue to fall? Production will drop even faster as companies reduce inventories. Employers will eventually cut hours worked and fire workers. We do not known when and how, but it manufacturing employment is too small to have a significant effect on the overall US economy. Even its output is only 12% of US GDP.

Bottom line: hold the hysteria.

(2)  Collapse of the mining sector (including oil & gas)

Output in red. Employment in green.

FRED: January 2016 Employment and Production of the Mining Sector

The US mining sector — which includes extraction of coal, oil, and natural gas — has hit hard times. Prices and volume are down. It’s a smaller sector than manufacturing (only 2% of GDP).

The mining story is the same as manufacturing’s — the new industrial revolution allows tech and capex to boost output without more workers since 2012. The decline has run in the opposite way as manufacturing, however: so far employment has fallen more than output (-16% vs. -11%). This is uncharted terrain; we can only guess what this will look like in a year or two.

The geographic concentration of mining means that a few states will suffer disproportionately: mining is one-third of Wyoming’s GDP, one-quarter of Alaska’s, one-sixth of West Virginia’s, one-eighth of Oklahoma’s, and one-tenth of Texas’ GDP (source: EIA).

So far the decline in mining output and employment has been in the non-petroleum industries. The below graph of oil & gas mining shows that since 2012 fracking boosted output with few new workers.

FRED: January 2016 Employment and Production of the Petroleum Sector

Now everything unravels. The price of natural gas (Henry Hub spot) peaked in February 2014; crude oil (WTI) peaked in June 2014, employment peaked in October 2014, it Industrial Production Index peaked in April 2015. A collapse will result eventually if prices do not rise — but we can only guess at its shape.

But the oil & gas extraction only employees 183 thousand people. The bankruptcies will affect investors. Some communities will suffer. But the national macroeconomic effects will be small.

Bottom line: no hysteria warranted.


The declines in manufacturing and mining have produced a clickbait extravaganza at some  popular perma-bear websites. However exciting, most of that exaggerates the national impacts.

Business investment and consumer spending are the powerful and volatile drivers of the US economy. When they turn down — and they have not yet done so — the overall economy will drop with them. There are indications that might happen in 2016. Keep your eyes on the center rings of the circus. Should the picture darken, do not delay taking steps to protect yourself.

For More Information

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And these about the US economy…

Banks Are The Key To This Stock Market Decline, & The Recession That Might Follow

Summary: After years of slow economic growth and rising asset prices in America, with investment gurus and economists predicting booms & crashes, events have again taken center stage. It’s time to again pay attention to the data.  {2nd of 2 posts today}

  • Risk markets are rolling over, high-grade bonds rise on a flight to safety.
  • Broad price movements like this are seldom false alarms; something is happening to fundamentals.
  • As usual during the early stages of a crash, we can only guess at the causes. Every crisis is unique. Do not assume this will follow the 2008 script.
  • Watch the banks! Banks lead us into financial crises; their stabilization leads us out.
  • Watch the data and take incremental steps to a more defensible portfolio stance. Avoid predictions!


Clear vision

This is another in a series of posts about the end to the expansion cycle which began in 2009 (links at the end). We can only speculate about the details and timing, but the broad outlines slowly become visible.

Look to the center of the decline in risk prices: banks. Their stocks are falling. Prices of their credit default swaps are rising. Concerns about their solvency have spouted suddenly, like daffodils after the first Spring shower. That’s how it should be. …

Read the rest at Seeking Alpha.


Surprises in the January jobs report

Summary: The monthly job numbers tell us much, but the headline number about which the press obsesses tells us almost nothing. This post looks at the trends that shape America as shown in this report, and especially the surprises.



Journalists and economists ask if we are in a recession. The tabloid investment media screams “yes”.  Last week Professor James Hamilton provided a clear answer: no.  It’s the wrong question. We should be like sailors, scanning the horizon to see the storm before it hits, taking incremental steps to prepare as the odds of a storm grow – eventually battening down the hatches and reefing the sails — before it’s too late to do so.

Macroeconomic data provides our best warnings of economic storms. The monthly payroll report — released today for January — gets massive attention, but we must dig to get the useful insights.

The headline job number is too volatile and too heavily revised for use (also, it is a lagging indicator), but the trend in the percent change year over year NSA tells us much – the rate of growth slows rapidly in the year before a recession, hence months before stocks roll over. Payroll growth peaked in February 2015 at 2.3%, steadily falling to 1.9% in January.

NonFarm Payroll - YoY percent change NSA

Let’s look below the headline number at some of the weaker sectors. Such as manufacturing, so far the center of the downturn. Manufacturing added 29,000 jobs in January, the second monthly gain and the largest since November 2014. What does this mean? I have no idea. It is an anomaly. Economists and journalists seldom point to anomalies in the data, although that should be a priority. Anomalies point to changes in trends and errors in our beliefs.

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Hold the hysteria. The US economy is OK, so far.

Summary: The economy is slowing. We are probably not in a recession, let alone beginning the end times depression doomsters have so often predicted. On the other hand, continued slowing seems likely, and a little more and we will have a recession. Let’s look at some key indicators.  {First of two posts today.}



  1. Manufacturing; one piston of the US economy’s engine
  2. Transportation and trade
  3. The Bottom Line: US & world growth
  4. For More Information


(1)  Manufacturing; one piston of the US economy’s engine

Zero Hedge: “Durable Goods Devastation…Scream Recession

December’s Advance Report on Durable Goods  shows a continued slow decline, especially new orders. The monthly decline in December was large, but not unusually so for this volatile data. It doesn’t scream “recession”.

December 2016 Durable Good New Orders: MoM, SA

Nor does the year-over-year decline of 1.7% SA scream “recession”. It is not even unusual. New orders often decrease without a recession following; it has happened several times during this expansion. The data only goes back to 1993.

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Effects Of The Coming Market Crash On The Economy – And Perhaps On You

Summary: For the past year I’ve warned that the economy is slowing. For the past three months I’ve warned that a recession is coming. Now let’s consider the likely effects, and how you can prepare.

  • The odds of a stock market crash are high.
  • Are you at or near ground zero, to be hurt by the crash or its after-effects?
  • Will you be affected by its ripples — or the recession that probably causes the crash?
  • Here are the likely worst affected industries and regions. Prepare now if you’re in them, or if you are over-weight their stocks.

Stock Market Crash

A crash is coming soon. I believe (aka guess) it will happen in 2016, when stocks are knocked down by the combination of a recession, liquidation of margin debt, and collapse of valuations.

Valuations are a particular weak spot of stock. Now near record high levels, they are among the most mean-reverting of economic series on a generational basis (i.e., they collapse and then return to the average of the past 10 or 20 years). Stock prices might drop roughly by half, as they did after the last two bubbles popped.

What does a stock market decline do to the economy? Let’s count the ways.

Read the rest at Seeking Alpha. Post your comments there.