On Friday, the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy created 175,000 seasonally adjusted jobs in February, with 162,000 of the additions occurring in the private sector.
That result exceeded expectations of roughly 150,000, and caused the business press to sing odes of high praise to an economy that was amazingly overcoming this year's difficult winter weather. Unfortunately, as readers will see after the jump, February's raw results demonstrate that it was all an illusion.
You don't even need to know the specifics to realize that today's economic reports were weak. All you need to know is that there was no mention of them in the Associated Press's list of Top 10 business stories as of 3:35 p.m. Among stories considered more important: a product review of Apple's tiny market-share program called iWork and three dozen passengers suing Carnival Cruise Lines.
This morning's release from ADP on February private-sector employment growth reported 139,000 jobs added; the previous four months were revised down by a total of 138,000. The Institute for Supply Management's Non-Manufacturing Index came in at 51.6%, showing relatively slow expansion (anything above 50% indicates expansion) compared to January's 54.0%. The reports missed expectations of 155,000 jobs added and 53.5%, respectively. AP coverage of these two reports somewhat understated their weakness, one quantitatively and the other qualitatively.
It appears that Aron Heller at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's press, might have been applying lessons learned from the wire service's U.S. business and economics writers in his coverage of Israel's settlement activity. Heller also seems strangely fond of this mythical thing known as the "international community."
AP business and economics writers like Martin Crutsinger and Christopher Rugaber have regaled us with the wonders of the alleged housing recovery during the past two years, but haven't been quite as good at telling us that over 4-1/2 years after the recession officially ended, new home sales and construction activity is still only about 60-65 percent of what is seen as healthy by most economists and analysts. Heller pulled an analogous trick in his report; fortunately Evelyn Gordon at Commentary (HT Powerline) was astute enough to catch his misdirection, one in which President Obama has also engaged.
The news in two government reports on the economy today was not good. One showed that initial unemployment claims last week rose to a seasonally adjusted 348,000; raw (not seasonally adjusted) claims were virtually identical to last year's comparable week. To avoid the dreaded U-word ("unexpectedly"), a pair of Bloomberg News reporters described the result as "exceeding all forecasts." In the other report, durable goods orders in January fell by a seasonally adjusted 1.0 percent, while December's steep decline of 4.3 percent was revised down even further to -5.3 percent.
In separate reports at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, Christopher Rugaber and Josh Boak did their best to excuse away the results and to find something positive to say. As readers will see, they had to dig pretty deep, and their efforts were unconvincing.
One of the more annoying aspects of business press reporting is its participants' singular focus on seasonally adjusted data to the exclusion of the underlying figures.
Many reports on the economy at least tag the figures reported as seasonally adjusted; but there seems to be a trend away from doing even that. For example, the Associated Press has routinely labeled weekly initial jobless claims as seasonally adjusted (examples from about a year ago are here, here, and here), but Thursday's adjusted claims figure of 331,000 and the 348,000 from a week earlier went unlabeled (as seen here and here, respectively). Additionally, none of the three main wire services (AP, Bloomberg, Reuters) described yesterday's reported increase in employment as "seasonally adjusted" (though the AP's Christopher Rugaber did report that the unemployment rate of 6.6 percent was seasonally adjusted). In failing to do so, they all were in essence telling readers that the economy really added 113,000 jobs in January. The truth is that it lost over 2.8 million of them:
Following up on Friday's awful jobs report from the government (only 74,000 seasonally adjusted jobs added, with the unemployment rate dropping to 6.7 percent only because adults continued to leave the workforce), the Asssociated Press's Christopher Rugaber tried to search for excuses.
To its credit, the headline at Rugaber's report didn't blatantly dissemble like the one at Bloomberg, which, in revising the title of an underrated Stevie Wonder song from the 1970s ("Blame It on the Sun"), blamed it on the cold and snow: "Old Man Winter Put a Chill on U.S. Labor Market at End of 2013." But the AP reporter predictably failed to entertain the possibility that Obamacare's virtual chaos, plan cancellations, and impending 2014 premium hikes might have thrown a great deal of sand into the job market's gears, even though a virtual halt in healthcare hiring stuck out like a sore thumb. Excerpts follow the jump (bolds and numbered tags are mine):
Bringing on yet another appearance of the dreaded "U-word" — "unexpectedly" (via Bloomberg) — the Labor Department reported today that initial claims for unemployment benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 379,000. That's a nine-month high, and an increase from last week's also unexpected 369,000. This week's and last week's results were far above the 332,000 and 320,000, respectively, analysts had predicted.
The Department of Labor's excuse for the past two dismal weeks has been "holiday volatility." Though they mostly had a point last week, this week they don't. Last week was the week after Thanksgiving, while that holiday took place six days earlier in 2012. But the week ended December 14, 2013 and the comparable week from last year (12/15/12) are both sufficiently removed from Thanksgiving's influence on the numbers that the holiday has no meaningful impact. The business press is pretending that DOL is right.
At the Associated Press Friday morning, economics writer Christopher Rugaber's story had a predictably sunny and incomplete headline ("LONG-LASTING US FACTORY GOODS ORDERS RISE 3.7 PCT.") followed by an opening paragraph which told readers that "orders for most other goods fell" and which speculated without basis that the substantively bad news was "a possible sign of concern about the partial government shutdown that began Oct. 1."
That's a great reporting strategy if your goal is to keep busy news consumers inadequately informed. Those who only read the headline will believe that this economic element was unequivocally positive. Those who only get through the first paragraph will see the bad news and blame congressional Republicans, on whom the establishment media has successfully pinned the blame for the 17 percent shutdown — even though it objectively doesn't belong there. Excerpts follow the jump (bolds are mine):
Apparently desperate to claim that 17 percent government shutdown is causing pain, Christopher Rugaber at the Associated Press, aka the Adminstration's Press, decided that the Empire State Manufacturing Index's decline from brisk expansion to modest expansion was "a sign that the partial government shutdown may be weighing on the economy." Rugaber wrote what he did despite the actual report's emphasis that both business and labor market conditions "held steady," and its accompanying observation that manufacturers' borrowing costs have increased.
Though the headline at the AP's national site is a neutral "NY FACTORY ACTIVITY GROWS MORE SLOWLY IN OCTOBER," the one accompanying the story at some outlets (e.g., here and here — "Survey shows NY factory activity grows more slowly in October, signaling shutdown impact") is not. The four-paragraph story, presented in full for future reference, fair use and discussion purposes, follows the jump:
I guess the Associated Press's business and economics reporters feel they've done their jobs if they mention the relative donominance of new workforce entries by temps and part-timers once, while still denigrating the obvious validity of the latter — and pretend it never has to be mentioned again.
That's how the AP's Christopher Rugaber can produce a writeup, as he did today, telling readers that "The job market is sending signs that it may be strengthening," which contains no reference to part-timers or temps, obviously because that would disrupt the "improvement" meme. Excerpts follow the jump (bolds are mine):
It's almost amusing to watch writers like Christopher Rugaber at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, pretend not to understand why the economy isn't growing as much as one would "expect" based on the number of jobs being added each month and falling weekly unemployment claims.
In a Thursday story which was mostly worthless because the incompletely collected government data on weekly unemployment claims made it so, Rugaber and the "expert" he quoted pretended not to understand — well, I hope they were pretending because otherwise I'd have to conclude that they're dumber than a box of rocks — how all of this can be (bolds are mine):
At the Associated Press, economics writer Christopher Rugaber used not seasonally adjusted data published by the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics on metro area employment and unemployment to crow about "widespread improvement in the job market." The predominance of part-time jobs among the new ones created and fact that houshold incomes have yet to recover from the recession apparently had no impact on his assessment.
The opening sentence of the government's report reads: "Unemployment rates were lower in July than a year earlier in 320 of the 372 metropolitan areas, higher in 38 areas, and unchanged in 14 area, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today." But the second paragraph of Rugaber's AP report, headlined "Unemployment Rates Fall in Two-thirds of U.S. Cities," tells readers that "[U]nemployment rates fell in 239 of the nation's 372 largest cities in July from June."
Anyone remember all the huffing and puffing from the establishment press about how third-quarter economic growth was going to be great — so please stop worrying about how weak the past three quarters (annualized rates of 0.1%, 1.1%, and 1.7%, respectively) have been?
Oops. On Friday, the Census Bureau reported that new-home sales dropped over 20% in July to an annual rate of 394,000 from June's original reading of 497,000, which was itself revised down to 455,000. Today, the bureau revealed that durable goods orders fell sharply in July, bringing about yet another appearance at Bloomberg News of its favorite word during the past five years about the economy, and yet another instance of the stock market's apparent pleasure with bad news for the rest of us:
It seems that beat reporters need to be constantly reminded that they have their hands full just discerning the facts, relaying them coherently, and leaving the "analysis" to others (while presenting alternative analytical takes when necessary).
The nagging is really for their own good. If they would stick to their jobs instead of "analyzing," which often is a cover for getting out their own opinions, they wouldn't be suffering the feelings of embarrassment Christopher Rugaber at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, should be feeling right now (I'm not saying he is; I'm saying he should be). You see, yesterday he said that a best-in-years report on existing-home sales meant one thing. Today, thanks to the Census Bureau's disastrous July new-home sales release, he said it meant quite another.
After a two-year hiatus, the Associated Press has apparently decided that Americans need a weekly reminder of how bad weekly layoffs were during the recession.
In June 2011, possibly as a result of some hectoring by yours truly, the wire service totally or almost totally stopped reminding readers that "(unemployment) claims applications peaked at 659,000 during the recession." That tired figure was already over two years old, and isn't even an all-time record (several weeks during the 1980s were higher, even with a much smaller workforce). So who cares? But in each of the past three weeks, AP has resurrected that tired number (since revised slightly upward because of changes to seasonal adjustment factors), as if a one-week stat from almost 4-1/2 years ago means anything to anybody right now:
Maybe because it's a UFO, we're not supposed to be able to explain it.
No, I'm not talking about unidentified flying objects at the recently acknowledged Area 51. I'm talking about an unexplained financial observation, the one made by the Associated Press's Christopher Rugaber on Monday after the release of the July Regional and State Employment and Unemployment report Monday morning. Rugaber observed that the unemployment rate rose in the majority of states and fell in a relative few, while July's national unemployment rate reported two weeks ago fell from 7.6% to 7.4%:
What do you do when you're the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, and you're trying to do your level best to described a floundering economy without incurring the wrath of the Obama administration? You search for positive-sounding words to describe what is in reality a marginal situation.
The AP seems to have settled on "steady" and "steadily."
In this case, the old saying, "Better late than never" really shouldn't apply. In June, when the government's Household Survey used to determine the unemployment rate reported that there were 240,000 fewer full-time workers and 360,000 more part-time workers than there were in May, the establishment press, particularly the Associated Press, largely ignored or downplayed the result.
The AP's Christopher Rugaber broke the ice a bit in early July after June's jobs report, and the wire service has finally gone full-bore into noting the trend towards part-time work in the past two days. But while the press slept for months, center-right bloggers and many others have been chronicling the trend anecdotally since late last year, and gradually with solid numbers from the government's own reports as the year has worn on.
During the Obama administration's 4-1/2 year track record of economic underachievement, establishment press business reporters have usually waited until the bad news actually comes out before working on convincing readers that future news will be better.
Not this time, at least at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press. Christopher "Gone are the fears that the economy could fall into a recession" Rugaber didn't bother to wait for tomorrow's report on Gross Domestic Product to tell readers that the rest of the year will be fine. The fact that these rosy forecasts have rarely come to pass during the past 17 quarters didn't seem to faze him a bit.
I was going to leave this alone because the original item involved goes back to last week. But Christopher Rugaber at the Associated Press brought it up again in his report today on existing home sales, so it's fair game again.
The final sentence of his dispatch refers to last week's Census Bureau data in the new home market, and claims that "In June, they (builders) applied for permits to build single-family homes at the fastest pace in five years." Not really -- in fact, not at all -- as will be seen after the jump.
In a Sunday morning story which will likely have limited reach, and will then probably be considered old news by the time the business week resumes tomorrow, the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, finally got around to recognizing a trend on which yours truly and others have been commenting for at least 2-1/2 years: the surge in employment at temporary help services.
That the item's author is Christopher "Gone Are the Fears That the Economy Could Fall Into Another Recession" Rugaber makes it especially rich, once he explains to his readers some of the reasons why temp services is one of the few sectors employing more people now than it did at its pre-recession peak (bolds are mine):
It wasn't a tough prediction, but late Friday morning Noel Sheppard at NewsBusters noted the seemingly "metaphysical certitude the Obama-loving media will be falling over themselves in the next 48 hours to report the better than expected jobs numbers in June." Well, of course.
Noel also wondered how much attention the press would pay to less than desirable aspects of yesterday's jobs report from Uncle Sam's Bureau of Labor Statistics. The answer at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, which carried at least eight reports relating to the news and its effects on the financial markets, was "hardly," as will be seen in excerpts after the jump. Additionally, the AP reversed its initial take that yesterday's non-change in the unemployment rate would keep the Federal Reserve's stimulus flowing, later deciding that the jobs report was so good that the Fed can let the tapering begin.
I suspect that a number of people are tired of the establishment press telling us how so many economic reports have "best in" or best since (specific month in) 2008 (or 2007)" figures, especially the ones that still don't reflect what anyone would consider acceptable in normal economic times. Just a few examples include housing starts, housing permits, new home sales, existing home sales, initial unemployment claim, and the unemployment rate.
That doesn't bother me too much, though the press missed quite a few "best since" figures during the Bush 43 presidency. What's intensely annoying is when "worst since" figures, which the press studiously identified during the Bush era, hit them in the face in today's economy and are downplayed or ignored. A pretty good example was today's Non Manufacturing Index from the Institute for Supply Management, which, at 52.2%, hit its lowest point since February 2010, and had two key components which were the worst in almost four years.
Before the government released its first estimate of first-quarter economic growth in late April, the establishment press, particularly Bloomberg News and the Associated Press, salivated at the chance to report the then-predicted "robust" annualized growth of 3 percent and to describe how the economy had "accelerated" from the previous quarter's pathetic 0.4 percent. When that first estimate came in at only 2.5 percent, most news organizations at least had the integrity to pronounce the news disappointing. But not Martin Crutsinger and Christopher Rugaber at the AP, aka the Administration's Press, who opened their coverage by saying that "the American economy quickened its pace early this year despite deep government cutbacks."
The government's second estimate in May was little changed at 2.4 percent. But Wednesday's third and final estimate (pending annual revisions going back several years, the next of which will appear in July) came in at 1.8 percent, a 40 percent drop from so-called experts' original predictions (1.2-point difference divided by the original 3.0 percent). The AP's reaction was to produce a terse three-paragraph blurb which was gone from its national web site within 24 hours, followed by a late afternoon report which blamed higher Social Security taxes and "federal spending cuts":
One particular sentence has recently become a virtual meme at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press.
Its latest appearance is at Christopher Rugaber's report this afternoon on April's seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent drop in consumer spending. Rugaber, who infamously wrote "Gone are the fears that the economy could fall into another recession" in early April, perhaps betraying a bit of nervousness, called today's news "a sign that economic growth may be slowing." Deeper into his dispatch, he rolled out the meme:
You've got hand it to some (probably most) of the reporters at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press. Their story is that the economy is all right, and by gosh, they're sticking to it.
Tom Raum's dispatch yesterday is a case in point. Along the way, he pulled out several of the tired spin-driven claims which have long since been taken down but which haven't yet penetrated the skulls of low-information voters. Raum and AP seem puzzled that the supposedly okey-dokey economy doesn't seem to be helping President Obama or Democrats' 2014 congressional and senatorial election prospects (bolds and numbered tags are mine):
On Friday, the government reported that the economy grew by an annualized 2.5 percent during the first quarter. As I noted in Part 1 (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), three establishment press outlets (CNN, Bloomberg, and Reuters) pronounced the result "disappointing" -- but not Martin Crutsinger and Christopher Rugaber at the Associated Press, whose headline read "AFTER NEAR-STALL IN LATE 2012, US ECONOMY PICKS UP," and whose content described the economy as having "quickened its pace" as "the strongest consumer spending in two years fueled a 2.5 percent annual growth rate in the January-March quarter."
It turns out that the AP pair's enthusiasm was not only not shared at other news organizations. It wasn't even shared within AP, as will be seen after the jump.
On Friday, the government reported that the economy grew by an annualized 2.5 percent during the first quarter. The awful 0.4 percent result seen in the fourth quarter was largely sloughed off as caused by a number of one-time factors. Analysts convinced themselves that reported first-quarter growth would come in at 3.0 percent or slightly higher in Friday's release. Instead, we saw what Zero Hedge noted was the biggest such expectations miss since September 2011.
As a result, at least three establishment press organizations pronounced the result disappointing -- except for two business reporters at the Associated Press whose names are virtual fixtures here.