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October Unemployment

October’s unemployment performance beat forecasts despite possible skewing due to the Federal shutdown. The economy added 204,000 non-farm jobs in October, putting the unemployment rate at 7.3 percent for the month, and the total number of jobless Americans at 11.3 percent, according to last week’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was slightly up from September’s 7.2 rate, but better than the forecast of 7.4 percent.

That said, the civilian labor force dropped by 720,000 in October, and the labor force participation rate, which describes how many people are actively looking for work, fell by 0.4 percent to 62.8 percent over the month.

The big question is why? For now, experts are chalking up the labor force shrinkage and declining participation to the Federal shutdown, because furloughed employees were counted as jobless, and not a narrowing job market. We’ll know better with the November report whether we’re looking at a trend, or simply more data skewed by the shutdown.

Consumer Credit

Consumer credit grew by 5.4 percent in September to hit a sizable total of $3.05 trillion, according to last week’s report from the Federal Reserve. Once again, the upswing was not felt by credit cards, which actually were down.

Non-revolving debt, such as student loans and car loans, saw a solid surge of 8.7 percent to hit $2.2 trillion, while revolving debt, such as credit cards, dropped by 2.9 percent to $846.9 billion. That’s the fourth-straight month of diminishing credit card spending.

Multiple experts chalked up the gains in non-revolving debt to gains in household wealth resulting in a willingness to buy big-ticket items, while keeping the plastic in their wallets. The question is, does that speak to consumer concerns about the current economy, or about credit card use in general?

“It’s the pattern we’ve seen all year and even most of last year — consumers not really willing to build up credit-card balances,” said Paul Edelstein, director of financial economics at IHS Global Insight. “We can’t preclude the possibility that there’s just been a preference shift in household attitudes toward debt.”

Incomes and Spending

September’s personal income and spending scores from the Bureau of Economic Analysis might speak to Edelstein’s concerns. Incomes grew by a 0.5 percent increase, or $67.4 billion, while personal consumption expenditures grew by 0.2 percent, or $24.7 billion, according to last week’s report.

Growth is a good thing, but while September’s income growth was in line with August’s 0.5 percent gains, the pace of September’s spending was a bit down from August’s 0.3 percent growth. That drop helped keep inflation in check, but September’s personal savings rate rose to 4.9 percent in September from 4.7 percent in August, marking a nine-month high.

That could speak to a reticence on the part of consumers to buy, which hurts growth, given that consumer spending comprises a large portion of the economy. But it could also be attributed to consumer fears exacerbated by the shutdown. The bureau’s release of October scores next month will help shed some light on the situation.

This week, we can expect to see:


  • Wednesday — October import and export prices from the Census Bureau; the October Treasury budget from the Treasury Department.
  • Thursday — Initial jobless claims for last week from the Employment and Training Administration; the September balance of trade from the Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis; preliminary Third Quarter productivity scores from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Friday — Industrial production and capacity utilization for October from the Federal Reserve; September wholesale inventories from the Census Bureau.

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