Real Time Economics: There Are More Job Openings Than People Looking For a Job

This is the web version of the WSJ’s economic newsletter. You can sign up for daily delivery here. Good morning! Today we look at more evidence of a tight labor market, hints of improving worker productivity, the latest trade developments, and steady global growth despite turmoil and uncertainty in parts of the world.  MORE JOB OPENINGS THAN JOB SEEKERS There’s plenty of news on the trade front, and we’ll get to that. But first let’s look at the labor market. The U.S. had more job openings than unemployed Americans this spring. That’s the first time that’s happened since such record-keeping began in 2000, Eric Morath reports. The tight labor market is forcing employers to rethink their approach to hiring: Is a clean criminal record really necessary? Is a college degree? Am I paying enough? If I can’t find workers at an affordable price, do I curtail production? Federal Reserve policy makers are closely. Emergence of worker shortages and stronger inflation could signal the economy is overheating, raising the need to lift interest rates more aggressively.
PLAN B What could a company possibly do in the face of worker shortages? Figure out a way to produce more with fewer employees. Unfortunately, U.S. productivity has been stuck in a multi-year rut, a byproduct perhaps of cheap labor, so-so business spending and other factors that remain a bit of a mystery to economists. “But spending revived last year, in both the oil and non-oil sectors, triggering a clear upturn in productivity growth. When businesses acquire new or replacement assets, they put them to work quickly,” said Pantheon Macroeconomics’s Ian Shepherdson. A sustained upward trend in productivity growth could be some of the best economic news in years—it’s the key to improving living standards for most Americans. Revised first-quarter productivity numbers are out at 8:30 a.m. ET. Quarterly data is noisy, look instead at broader trends.
If you’re a manager or business owner, are you struggling to find workers? Write to Jeffrey Sparshott at realtimeeconomics@wsj.com, tweet to @WSJecon and visit wsj.com/economy for the latest. WHAT TO WATCH TODAY The U.S. trade deficit for April, out at 8:30 a.m. ET, is expected to hold roughly steady at $48.7 billion. The figure has become a key yardstick for the Trump administration as it looks to overhaul U.S. commercial relationships.
U.S. productivity growth for the first quarter is expected to suffer a slight downward revision to 0.6% from 0.7%. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development releases its economic survey of the U.S. at 9:30 a.m. ET. TOP STORIES I’LL BUY THAT China offered to purchase nearly $70 billion of U.S. farm, manufacturing and energy products. But in weekend talks in Beijing, Chinese officials made clear that the offer would be void if Washington proceeds with its plan to impose tariffs on $50 billion of China-made products, Lingling Wei and Bob Davis report. That proviso could make the deal a non-starter in Washington, where the White House has said it plans to move ahead with the tariffs as a way to pressure China to make more sweeping changes in its economy. In particular, the U.S. wants Beijing to stop forcing U.S. firms to transfer technology to their Chinese partners and halt what the U.S. considers unfair subsidies and other aid to Chinese firms. CONGRESS SHALL HAVE POWER TO… While the Trump administration is stepping up pressure on trade partners, Republicans are ratcheting up their opposition to restrictive new tariffs targeting U.S. allies. In the latest move, Sens. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) are proposing a measure to limit President Donald Trump’s power to use the 1962 Trade Expansion Act to impose tariffs based on national security concerns, Siobhan Hughes and Kristina Peterson report. Mr. Trump has used the act for steel and aluminum tariffs, and is considering auto tariffs under the same guise. “When you can just name anything a national security issue, you undermine the whole trade-agreement process,” said Mr. Corker said. CHERRY ON TOP There seems to be quite a bit of Farm Belt support for the Corker-Toomey legislation. Wonder why? Aggrieved trade partners are responding to steel and aluminum tariffs by targeting U.S. agriculture. Mexico this week imposed tariffs on major U.S. exports such as cheese and pork, while Canada and the European Union are considering tariffs on U.S. food and farm goods from corn to orange juice to peanut butter, Jacob Bunge, Heather Haddon and Benjamin Parkin report. China, which already has levied duties on U.S. farm goods, could target other crops if the U.S. goes ahead with tariffs on another $50 billion worth of Chinese merchandise. EURO WATCH Italy’s new government is laying the groundwork to challenge Europe’s financial orthodoxy and immigration rules, setting out a euroskeptic policy agenda in the eurozone’s third-biggest economy. In his inaugural speech to Parliament, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said his government would push for a change of the rules underpinning the eurozone to spur growth and cut the country’s massive debt, Giovanni Legorano and Eric Sylvers report. “If populism is listening to the needs of the people, we accept” such a label, he said. SHRUGGING OFF ITALY The European Central Bank’s chief economist Peter Praet signaled that officials are increasingly confident that eurozone inflation will return toward target amid strong underlying economic growth and rising wages. That suggests the bank could phase out its giant bond-buying program this year, Tom Fairless writes. “Both the underlying strength in the euro area economy and the fact that such strength is increasingly affecting wage formation supports our confidence that inflation will reach” the ECB’s just-under 2% target, Mr. Praet said in Berlin. REALLY, NO WORRIES! The global economy appears poised to weather turmoil in some emerging markets, a political upheaval in Italy, and an aggressive round of trade actions from the U.S., according to the semiannual economic growth forecasts of the World Bank. The World Bank estimates the global economy will grow 3.1% this year, matching the pace of growth seen in 2017, Josh Zumbrun reports. QUOTE OF THE DAY “I would hate to see this great, booming economy, as a result of the policies of this administration, be squandered by a trade war.” – Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R., Texas) TWEET OF THE DAY [wsj-responsive-sandbox id = "0" ] WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING There’s nothing plain vanilla about Madagascar’s vanilla rush. “Strong demand for natural vanilla, speculation, bad harvests and money laundering have driven prices as high as silver,” The Financial Times’s David Pilling reports. Unfortunately, the farmers that produce the bean aren’t all benefitting. Most profits go to  buyers, intermediaries and exporters. Want to boost sales? “We find that small gifts matter. On average, sales representatives generate more than twice as much revenue when they distribute a small gift at the onset of their negotiations,” Michel André Maréchal and Christian Thöni write in a CESifo Working Paper. There’s one key caveat: The gifts only work if the sales agent and customer already know each other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *