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Money Moves Markets

UK labour market report mixed but recession-consistent

December 13, 2022 by Simon Ward

UK payrolled employment rose solidly again in November, while pay growth numbers for October surprised to the upside. It has been suggested that this news reinforces the case for a Bank rate hike of at least 50 bp this week. 

Employment is a lagging economic indicator. There is ample coincident evidence that a recession is under way. Annual broad money growth – as measured by non-financial M4 – is down to 3.4%, a level suggesting a medium-term inflation undershoot. The view here is that any rate rise this week will be a mistake. 

The monthly payrolled employment measure has a short history but it correlates closely with the quarterly (and less timely) Workforce employee jobs series. In the 2008-09 recession, the latter measure peaked two quarters after GDP.

Labour market indicators that lead employment / unemployment include the stock of vacancies and average hours worked. These indicators are usually roughly coincident with GDP.

The headline vacancies series is a three-month moving average but non-seasonally-adjusted single-month numbers are available and can be adjusted using a standard procedure. The resulting series peaked in April, one month before GDP, and fell again in November – see chart 1. The recent pace of decline is comparable with the 2008-09 recession.

Chart 1

Chart 1 showing UK Monthly GDP Index & Vacancies* *Single Month, Own Seasonal Adjustment

The weak November vacancies number suggests that GDP contracted significantly last month after October’s catch-up from reduced September activity due to the Queen’s funeral.

Average weekly hours tell a similar story. The series, which is available only as a three-month moving average, peaked in March and fell again in October, reaching its lowest level – excluding the pandemic recession – since 2012.

Should the MPC react to strong pay numbers? The monetarist view is that pay pressures are an effect rather than a cause of high inflation and will moderate as the dramatic slowdown in money growth since 2021 feeds through to slower price rises.

The latest upside surprise, in any case, reflects a belated catch-up in public sector pay; six-month growth of private sector regular pay is high but moving sideways – chart 2. A public sector pay pick-up may be bad news for real government spending and / or the public finances but will have little effect on the pricing behaviour of private sector suppliers of goods and services – especially against a backdrop of deepening recession and a loosening labour market.

Chart 2

Chart 2 showing UK Average Weekly Regular Earnings (% 6m annualised)
NS Partners Ltd.
December 13th, 2022