Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Economics 03/03/2010: Live Register and Retail Sales

Live register and retail sales are out for today - and:

LR is down in seasonally adjusted terms. A whooping 2,300 down, driving implied unemployment rate from 12.7% in January to 12.6% in February. Sounds like a good deal at last. And, of course, it is, except:
  • Actual Liver Register still rose by 20 new signees;
  • The rise of 810 in over 25 year olds was offset by a fall of 790 for the under 25 year olds, which makes me wonder - was the former a real increase in unemployment, while the latter a sign of younger kids abandoning the workforce to join training schemes, social welfare (with unemployment benefits for the under-25 year olds being reduced in two budgets) or going off to greener pastures elsewhere (i.e emigrating);
  • Whichever way you spin the numbers, 432,400 people on the LR is a sizable number and to me still constitutes a massive crisis. 348,100 of these are over-25 year olds - prime employment age workers (down just 800 on January in seasonally adjusted terms);
  • Average net weekly change to the LR in February was a much more modest +5 relative to January's +2,668 - a good sign, if one stretches the term 'good'
Now, do recall - in September 2009 we took off the LR 3,785 people who were placed in various state-sponsored training programmes, so there is still plenty of cushion for LR to show real improvement.

A chart (courtesy of the Ulster Bank economics team) to illustrate:
One clearly needs a microscope to spot the improvements in the overall picture, although the trend in moderating LR growth rate is clearly visible. Another interesting sighting is the dead-cat-bounce in October 2009. Are we in the same pattern now? I don't know, but dynamically, the chart above suggests we are at the flat part of the U-trend. How long will it take before we get through that part? How steep will be the upward part of the U?

The key risk indicator at this moment is QNHS which, I would expect, will show further contraction in employment and more aggressive exits from the labour force.


Meanwhile, retail sales are also bumping up, limp, lifeless, but twitchy. Chart below - courtesy of the Ulster Bank economics team (I will do my analytics later tonight, so stay tuned) illustrates:
The volume of retail sales (i.e. ex effects of price changes) is down 4.8% in January 2010 compared to January 2009 and down a whooping 17.3% in monthly terms. There was a monthly decrease of 17.3%. Ex-motors, volumes are down 4.7% annually and up 0.1% monthly. would the natural (and man-made) disasters of January help here? Quite possibly - electrical goods, furniture, lighting and clothing are up as people had to counter adverse weather and replace those washers and dishwashers frozen in the cold spell.

The value of sales fell 8.4% in January 2010 in annual terms and 15.6% in monthly terms as deflation at retail level continued to bite, primarily at Motor Trade levels: ex-motors, monthly change was +0.6%.

My slight concern here is that the release of retail sales data covers December 27-January 23rd, which means that while it missed a slow-to-go last week on retail sales in January, it also over-states retail sales due to capturing December 27-30 - the busiest sales period in the entire year. And, due to inclement weather, fewer people were able to travel to the North, so more shoppers stayed in the Republic, although many of these stayed at home.
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