So ... another month, and another miserable jobs report. On Monday, I explained why I believe the September unemployment report out of the Bureau of Labor and Statistics bodes particularly ill for any company that depends on cash-strapped state and local governments for its business.
Yesterday, fellow Fool Morgan Housel gave you his take on the report -- a somewhat more optimistic observation that while governments are laying off workers by the tens of thousands, cost-cutting at corporations such as Ford and Sirius XM have laid the groundwork for a move in the opposite direction. The crisis averted, they're now "ready to start growing again."
But whom will they hire? And are these jobs worth taking? That's the question we'll look at today:
Digging deeply into the numbers of last week's unemployment report, I stumbled upon a fascinating statistic: See that spike there at the right end of the chart? Temporary and part time employment in America is now at an all-time high. More Americans are working part-time today than in 1998, just prior to the Internet Bubble. More than in 2003, before the Housing Bubble pushed us up to Dow 14,000.
Now, according to the Generally Accepted Wisdom, corporations often hire part-time and temporary help to "test the waters" when coming out of an economic downturn, to see if it's safe to dive into a full-scale hiring binge as the recovery takes hold. So ... are we standing on the cusp of the Next Great Bull Market?
Look out your window
Not from where I sit, we aren't. Alcoa
But if that's the case ... how do you explain the unemployment numbers? What's with the huge leap in part-time and temporary employment? Turning the question over in his head on Friday, noted market maven and friend-of-the-Fool John Mauldin responded as follows: "My take on this is that part-time workers are no longer a leading indicator but simply a manifestation of the new reality that employers don't want to take on the burden of a full-time employee who may not be needed or who comes with costly benefits under the new regulatory and health-care regimes."
This may fly in the face of accepted wisdom regarding temp-hiring, but ... I agree.
Last month, U.S. News & World Report asked one of the most respected (and entertainingly named) outplacement firms in the business -- Challenger, Gray & Christmas -- to survey a handful of America's larger employers and find out what they're up to these days. And guess what they found? After cutting payrolls overzealously during the Panic Season of 2008-2009, bankers JPMorgan and Bank of America
On the one hand, that's certainly better news than if they were still firing. However, there is just one problem with the trend. Reports U.S. News: "They're hiring more temps and project workers and fewer full-timers, even at professional levels."
A picture of the "new normal"
This, Fools, jibes just a little too close for comfort with Mauldin's assessment of the situation -- and with what I see, looking out the proverbial window. If a recovery were in the offing, I'd expect to see the surge in part-time unemployment, sure -- but I'd also expect to begin seeing many of these "test-hires" shifting to full-time employment. Instead, unemployment sticks stubbornly close to 10%.
And really, where's the incentive for corporations to be hiring full-time employees? As we just saw in the September PMI report, new orders for manufacturing output are falling; backlogs of existing orders on the books are evaporating ...
When you get right down to it, friends, I simply do not see evidence here of a massive economic rebound that would justify historical record-high temp-to-perm hiring. Instead, this looks much more like a permatemp economy to me -- and that's lousy news for investors, in spite of the cost savings some individual corporations may realize.
First and foremost, part-time paychecks buy fewer cars, dishwashers, and iPads than full-time paychecks. But also, well let's consider ... if companies are switching to part-time, benefits-less employment, this will sap demand for health and dental insurance (new health-care legislation notwithstanding), and lower revenues for the companies that provide it, right? Part-timers have neither the paid time off nor the fat paychecks needed to finance a week sipping cocktails at Club Med. And of course, lacking 401(k)s and plump pension benefits, they won't be helping create demand for our stocks, either.
Call me a skeptic, call me a Fool -- but to me, none of this news seems to justify a Dow at 11,000.
Take the Foolish Rorschach test. Do you see something different in today's chart? Tell us about it below.
Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. Rich is not a licensed economist, but he plays one on the Web. Check out his latest stock recommendations on Motley Fool CAPS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
Home Depot, Intel, and Sprint Nextel are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Ford Motor is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Motley Fool Options has recommended buying calls on Intel. The Fool owns shares of Intel.
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