An economic number out Thursday is key to tracking the economy and quelling recession fears

Market Insider

Job seekers wait in line to enter a job fair hosted by JobExpo.com in Dallas.

Ben Torres | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Weekly jobless claims have been so steady, they aren’t on many investors’ radar as a major report.

But if this number suddenly started rising, that’s when it’s time to worry about the economy hitting the skids.

So far, there is no sign of that. The report showed 211,000 workers filed for unemployment claims last week, down slightly from 218,000 the week earlier. That’s also below a Dow Jones estimate of 215,000.

The weekly reports have been solidly below 250,000 since the beginning of 2018, and in April, they touched a 50-year low of 193,000. To give it context, in the financial crisis, claims spiked to more than 650,000.

Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, is someone who has been watching the weekly release closely, since monthly employment reports clearly show job growth is slowing. Boocvkar is concerned there are possible signs that layoffs could be next.

“The pace of job growth over the last three to six months, compared to the prior 12 months and compared to 2018 is slowing,” he said.

Boockvar said so far, there are no signs of firings but there are other data points that cause concern. Just this week, “the Markit serivces PMI, the employment component fell to a 10-year low. The JOLTs jobs data for September showed the smallest amount of job openings since March, 2018, which means the demand for labor is beginning to shrink,” Boockvar said. “It’s just multiple data points that are pointing to less demand for labor. We haven’t seen firings yet, but we need to see if we do by looking at the weekly jobless claims numbers.”

The government’s employment report for October showed that 128,000 jobs were added in the month, well above the expectation for 75,000. The strike at General Motors did impact the number, and there was a reduction of 42,000 jobs in vehicle and parts manufacturing. For the year, monthly job creation now averages 167,000 compared with 223,000 in 2018.

“The question is when things for the consumer begin to change, when that leads to a pickup in firings, jobless claims will be the high frequency number that captures that on a weekly basis,” he said.

Natixis economist Joseph LaVorgna said he’s not as concerned about a slowdown as he was a few months ago, and he is not concerned there will be an uptick in claims now. LaVorgna said the Fed has helped the economy with rate cuts and he sees manufacturing set to improve.

The ISM manufacturing survey has been below 50 for three months, a sign of contraction, and he expects that to reverse.

“One of the things that makes people comfortable here is the labor market, which still looks pretty healthy. Claims are the leading indicator for the labor market,” LaVorgna said.

LaVorgna, who is chief economist Americas, said along with the unemployment rate, it is critical to watch claims. “In the past you always had to worry about a 50 basis point rise in the unemployment rate, off its lows. …That was always a recession signal,” he said. The unemployment rate in October was a healthy 3.6%, slightly higher than September’s 3.5%.

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