Today (February 21, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the December-quarter 2023, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 4.2 per cent over the 12 months (up 0.2 points). In relation to the December-quarter CPI change (4.1 per cent), this result suggests that real wages grew modestly for the first time in 11 quarters. However, if we use the more appropriate Employee Selected Living Cost Index as our measure of the change in purchasing power then the December-quarter result of 6.9 per cent means that real wages fell by 2.7 per cent. Even the ABS notes the SLCI is a more accurate measure of cost-of-living increases for specific groups of interest in the economy. However, most commentators will focus on the nominal wages growth relative to CPI movements, which in my view provides a misleading estimate of the situation workers are in. Further, while productivity growth is weak, the movement in real wages is still such that real unit labour costs are still declining, which is equivalent to an ongoing attrition of the wages share in national income. So corporations are failing to invest the massive profits they have been earning and are also taking advantage of the current situation to push up profit mark-ups. A system that then forces tens of thousands of workers out of employment to deal with that problem is void of any decency or rationale. That is modern day Australia.
For the time being I will continue my Wednesday format where I cover some things that crossed my mind in the last week but which I don’t provide detailed analysis. The items can be totally orthogonal. The latest inflation data for Australia continues to affirm the transitory narrative – dropping significantly over the last month. I will analyse that tomorrow in the context of a recent ECB paper that decomposes the different factors that drove the inflationary pressures across the globe. Today, I consider the basis of a claim by the Australian Treasurer that real wages are now growing. Like many things in statistics, the numbers can say almost anything that you want them to via different ways of measurement and combination. In one sense, the Treasurer is correct. But when we use a more careful method of calculating purchasing power loss, he is incorrect. If the Treasurer was wanting to be really honest with the Australian people he would admit that rather than try to score petty political points against an opposition that has no clue at all. I also consider the role of the US in the on-going massacre of innocent people in Gaza. The US could stop the conflict immediately and the fact that they don’t demonstrates the poverty of the capitalist system in terms of advancing humanity in general. And some old folk music to finish.
Last Friday (December 8 , 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2023 – which showed payroll employment rising by 199,000 which is a good sign. The unemployment rate also fell as employment growth outstripped the growth in the labour force – down to 3.7 per cent (from 3.9 per cent). The participation rate rose by 0.1 point, indicating optimism among workers. I see no sign of a major slowdown emerging. Real wages have also started rising – modestly.
Last week (November 15, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the September-quarter 2023, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 1.3 per cent over the quarter (up 0.5 points) and 4 per cent over the 12 months (up 0.3 points). The ABS noted this was a “record” increase in relation to the history of this time series, which began in 1997. The RBA and all the economists who want interest rates higher (mostly because the financial market institutions they represent profit from higher rates) are now claiming that the higher wages growth is evidence of a domestic inflation problem and higher unemployment is needed to force wages down. The problem is that the nominal wages growth is still well below the inflation rate (which is falling) and while productivity growth is weak, the decline in real wages is still larger than the decline in productivity growth. That combination, which I explain in detail below, signifies that corporations are failing to invest the massive profits they have been earning and are also taking advantage of the current situation to push up profit mark-ups. A system that then forces tens of thousands of workers out of employment to deal with that problem is void of any decency or rationale.
In last month’s US labour market briefing – US labour market – stability abounds although, worryingly, real wage gains have evaporated (October 9, 2023) – I noted that while there was no major slowdown signalled, the real wage gains made in previous months had evaporated. I wasn’t sure whether that was a sign that a tipping point had been reached or was near. Last Friday (November 3, 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – October 2023 – which showed payroll employment rising by just 150,000, a significant dip in the previous month’s increase. The unemployment rate also continued to creep up to 3.9 per cent (from 3.8 per cent). While some might interpret this as a weakening trend, the question should be asked about the appropriate benchmark that we should be using. One could easily conclude that the aggregates are returning to pre-pandemic levels after all the pandemic noise. The alternative view is that there is a slowdown occurring. We will have to wait another month or so to distinguish between these two conjectures. After a few months of real wage gains, we are now observing nominal wages growth trailing the moderating inflation rate.
The IMF regularly conduct ‘missions’ to member countries, where a group of highly paid economists trot out to a capital city somewhere, hole up in some luxury hotel, and have a few meetings with Treasury officials and the like and then shoot through after the short visit back to whence they came and produce their report. On October 31, 2023, the IMF published – Australia: Staff Concluding Statement of the 2023 Article IV Mission – which attracted a lot of mainstream press attention in Australia. The message that the public received was summarised in this article – International Monetary Fund says Australia needs higher interest rates. The article carried no qualifications or reflection on the methodology. The journalists who have a high profile in the mainstream national media sanctioned without question the IMFs conclusions. That is what goes for information in these times. It is an assault on our collective intelligence really.
Last Friday (September 1, 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – August 2023 – which showed payroll employment rising by 187,000 but also that the unemployment rate has now starting rising (up 0.3 points) to 3.8 per cent. Is this the tipping point? I am very uncertain given the surprisingly large burst in participation which accounts almost entirely for the rise in unemployment and the unemployment rate. Most of the other aggregates were relatively stable which is why I am expressing uncertainty in my assessment. However, there is no sign of recession and no sign that the misguided Federal Reserve interest rate rises are causing rises in unemployment. Powell could hardly take credit for the rising participation rate unless he argued that he had created such desperation that people who normally do not work sought work. A stretch!
Yesterday (August 15, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the June-quarter 2023, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 0.8 per cent over the quarter (steady) and 3.6 per cent over the 12 months. This represented a slowdown over the 12 months on the previous quarter’s result. If we consider the rate of increase in the CPI in relation to this nominal wages growth then in the June-quarter the two were equal and so real wages were steady. However, over the last 12 months, real wages have fallen by 2.4 per cent using the CPI measure. But the ABS note that the CPI is not a good indicator of cost-of-living changes and they have produced special time series based on expenditure patterns for selected groups including employees. If we use the Employee Selected Cost of Living Indicator we find that real wages fell by 0.7 points over the June-quarter 2023 and by a stagerring 6 points over the 12 months. That puts the Treasurer’s spin that the latest data is a good sign into perspective. Further with the gap between productivity growth and real wages increasing, the massive redistribution of national income away from wages to profits continues. Further, the RBA continue to claim there is a threat of a wages breakout and so interest rates have to keep rising to create the necessary unemployment increase to prevent that from happening. It is just a ruse. There is no sign of a wages breakout.
Last Friday (August 4, 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – July 2023 – indicated a rather ‘steady as she goes’ outcome. A slightly weaker employment outlook compared to the beginning of 2023 but overall a very stable situation. There is no sign of recession and no sign that the misguided Federal Reserve interest rate rises are causing rises in unemployment. More evidence that monetary policy is not an effective tool.
Last Friday (July 7, 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – June 2023 – which revealed that the the US labour market has probably reached a turning point but is certainly not contracting at a rate consistent with an imminent recession. There was a continuing weakening of net employment growth. Further, the weaker conditions are evidenced by the decrease in new job openings and rising underemployment (workers forced into part-time work for economic reasons).