Job growth maybe a bubble ?

Extrait de: Unemployment Canada: Job Growth Sources At Risk As Housing, Commodities Come Under Pressure, 12/08/2012

Canada’s job market had a stellar November, with 59,000 net positions created — six times what economists had predicted — while the jobless rate fell to 7.2 per cent, nearing lows not seen since the economic crisis of 2008.

In a year of up-and-down job markets and lacklustre economic growth, the solid November numbers were welcome relief. But don’t run out and get that second mortgage just yet, because evidence is beginning to build that the strongest sources of job growth in our economy are at risk of fizzling out, and soon.

The two largest sources of job growth since the year 2000 have been construction and the mining, oil and gas sector. While the overall number of jobs in Canada during that time grew 21 per cent, construction jobs grew 63 per cent and mining/oil/gas saw a 67 per cent increase in jobs. (Manufacturing jobs shrank an alarming 28 per cent in that period.)

Those two areas more than tripled overall job growth in the country. That would be excellent news, were it not for the signs that these are exactly the two areas where job growth is now under threat. The twin powerhouses of real estate and natural resources could turn out to have been the beneficiaries of economic bubbles that are about to burst — or already have.

First, construction jobs. These are largely dependent on conditions in the real estate market. In the last decade, as house prices grew rapidly and steadily, Canada’s economy came to be more reliant on construction jobs than it has been in records stretching back to the 1970s.

·         Construction-related jobs now account for 7.4 per cent of all jobs in the country, a number that is arguably disproportionately high.

·         In the U.S., construction jobs never exceeded 6 per cent of all jobs, even at the peak of the country’s housing bubble half a decade ago.

·         The U.S. rate has since fallen to around 4.2 per cent.

And now Canada’s housing market is starting to come down. As developers delay their plans, this phenomenon is translating into job losses. Even as the total number of jobs in Canada grew by 1.8 per cent in the year to November, the number of construction jobs fell by 1.2 per cent. As recently as a year ago, as house prices were heading towards their peak,construction jobs were growing at a 4.2 per cent annual pace.

Analysts are warning of worse to come. In a report issued in September, the Conference Board of Canada predicted a grim 2013 for the construction business.

The residential market … will no longer be able to fuel Canada’s post-recession growth,” the Conference Board's Michael Burt said. “Next year is expected to be particularly lacklustre, as housing starts and industry profits are both forecast to decline.”

A month earlier, Scotiabank warned that Canadians can expect to see weakness in the real estate market for a decade to come, noting that it took eight or nine years for the market to recover from the last two housing busts.

“Historically, long cycles of rising home prices have been followed by extended periods of persistent softness, allowing affordability to be gradually restored and generating renewed pent-up demand,” Scotia said.

The one real hope that could rescue construction jobs is the commercial market. Building permit numbers this fall have been disappointing, but permits for non-residential buildings have been doing far better than residential ones.

Secondly, mining, oil and gas jobs. These are largely dependent on commodities prices. A dozen years ago, when oil prices were below $20 a barrel, much of the oil sands deposits weren’t even counted as part of Canada’s existing supply of oil, and much of the current employment there didn’t exist either. As prices soared to $100 a barrel and beyond, the massive cost of investing in oil sands extraction became worth it, and jobs in the oil patch boomed.

The problem is, this can work the other way too. If commodity prices fall too far, jobs related to commodity extraction will start disappearing. Oil prices have been under downward pressure for much of the year. After spending several years around the $100-per-barrel mark, oil prices this year dropped down to around the mid-$80s.

And now, a growing number of economists are predicting a bust-out in commodities prices. Citibank’s head of commodities analysis, Ed Morse, has been warning in recent weeks that he sees the end of the commodities “super-cycle,” and a decade-long climb in prices of oil and minerals is about to reverse itself.

Unless the end of history has arrived, the long period of price increases that started in the last decade appears to be coming to an end,” Morse said.

That’s hardly a consensus opinion, though. Goldman Sachs is telling its investor clients to pile into commodities because it sees prices bouncing back next year.

As economic growth improves into the latter half of 2013, we believe current fundamentals are likely to create near-term shortages,” Jeffrey Currie, head of commodities research at Goldman, said last week. (Of course, there is some question as to what Goldman Sachs' investment advice is worth.)

And so far, job growth in this area is holding up. The natural resources sector (forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas) saw a 4.9 per cent increase in jobs in the year ending in November. But then again, that looks a lot like the stats for construction jobs a year ago.

And now major oil sands producers are scaling back their expansion plans for next year, and they’re beginning to use the word “cautious” to describe their expansion plans.

If their new-found caution proves to be justified, Canada may be faced with a double whammy of bursting bubbles, that will leave plenty of people in the unemployment line.

Extrait de: Employment uptrend might not last, Jay Bryan, Gazette, December 7, 2012

MONTREAL — With Quebec’s robust November job gain of 18,200 jobs, this province is part of a Christmas miracle that spurred a completely unexpected employment surge right across the country. Nationally, we saw 59,300 new hires last month, pulling down the unemployment rate by two notches to 7.2 per cent. That matches the lowest jobless rate since the recession.

Quebec’s unemployment rate remains higher than the national average, but at 7.6 per cent in November, it too was down, by one tick.

Montreal’s job market looked weaker, although numbers for a single city are less than reliable because the statistical sample is small, so economists take these with a grain of salt. But for what it’s worth, November’s employment report showed Montreal unemployment rising to 8.4 per cent from 8.1, reflecting a small shrinkage in the number of jobs.

The key question, though, is whether the broader uptrend in employment can last. Unfortunately, the preponderant opinion among analysts is that it probably can’t. That’s not to say that employment will collapse, simply that this is likely the last hurrah for strong job growth until there’s a significant upturn in U.S. prosperity, one that can spur new demand for Canadian exports. That’s expected next year.

In the meantime, the job gains of last month should remain. But they’ll likely be followed by several months of weaker job creation, causing the unemployment rate to stall or maybe drift up a bit.

Of course, this is much the same outlook that economists offered us after a disappointing October job report that showed essentially no growth. That raises an obvious question: If the outlook was already dim and the economy had already slowed to a walking pace, how could we have such a good November?

For Quebec, part of the answer seems clear: a wave of public-sector hiring that began earlier in the autumn.

Un employé du secteur public ne crée aucune richesse, ce n’est qu’une simple dépense, par contre ça réduit le taux de chômage, excellent pour les politiciens.

Economist Matthieu Arseneau at National Bank Financial Markets totted up the gains for different industries and found that more than half the jobs created in Quebec during the past four months, a period when employment gains surged, were in sectors with heavy public participation: health care, education and public administration.

Since August, Quebec has enjoyed an average of 20,300 new jobs each month, nearly three times the previous pace.

While this is happy story for as long as this trend can hold up, it’s not likely to continue much longer, suggests Carlos Leitao, chief economist at Laurentian Bank Securities. A dominant theme in the new Parti Québécois government of Pauline Marois has been the urgent need to squeeze provincial spending, a message driven home by Friday’s announcement of new cuts to the health-care budget for Montreal.

What this means for provincially funded hiring is obvious, Leitao notes. There will very likely be less of it from now on.

Encore, de la fausse économie !

Nevertheless, there is a positive side to the big picture. If Canada’s employment can hold up this well at a time when two very important drivers of Canadian economic growth — exports and home construction — are in the doldrums, then we have a pretty resilient economy, suggests Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Porter is a little worried to see job creation soaring well above the pace of underlying economic growth, since this suggests that each hour of work put in by Canadian workers is producing less and less value — and indeed, this is exactly what new productivity figures show for recent months. But still, a job is a job, and in the short run, it’s good for all of us to have more Canadians with paycheques coming in.

The productivity problem is one that we’ll have to address sooner or later if Canada is to remain competitive in world markets, but it’s possible that this issue will diminish in importance over the coming year. An expected revival of the U.S. economy should support an upturn in this country’s exports. Such an upturn could provide manufacturers with the incentive to invest more in productivity-enhancing equipment.

In the meantime, Porter has a theory about why employment isn’t lagging as much as economic growth. It looks to him as if the relatively high prices that Canada continues to get for our resource products, another big export sector, has maintained a flow of income from abroad that continues to spread through the economy, helping to keep employment afloat.


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