Get Ready for the Full-Employment Recession | Kanebridge News
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    HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $1,526,212 (+1.41%)       Melbourne $950,600 (-0.81%)       Brisbane $848,079 (+0.39%)       Adelaide $783,680 (+0.69%)       Perth $722,301 (+0.42%)       Hobart $727,777 (-0.40%)       Darwin $644,340 (-0.88%)       Canberra $873,193 (-2.75%)       National $960,316 (+0.31%)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $711,149 (+0.79%)       Melbourne $480,050 (-0.07%)       Brisbane $471,869 (+1.52%)       Adelaide $395,455 (-0.79%)       Perth $396,215 (+0.44%)       Hobart $535,914 (-1.67%)       Darwin $365,715 (+0.11%)       Canberra $487,485 (+1.06%)       National $502,310 (+0.25%)                HOUSES FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 8,985 (+170)       Melbourne 11,869 (-124)       Brisbane 8,074 (+47)       Adelaide 2,298 (-22)       Perth 6,070 (+20)       Hobart 993 (+24)       Darwin 282 (-4)       Canberra 809 (+43)       National 39,380 (+154)                UNITS FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 7,927 (+125)       Melbourne 6,997 (+50)       Brisbane 1,822 (+3)       Adelaide 488 (+5)       Perth 1,915 (-1)       Hobart 151 (+3)       Darwin 391 (-9)       Canberra 680 (+5)       National 20,371 (+181)                HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $750 (-$20)       Melbourne $580 ($0)       Brisbane $590 (+$10)       Adelaide $570 (-$5)       Perth $600 ($0)       Hobart $550 ($0)       Darwin $700 (+$5)       Canberra $670 (+$10)       National $633 (-$1)                    UNIT MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $700 (-$20)       Melbourne $558 (+$8)       Brisbane $590 ($0)       Adelaide $458 (-$3)       Perth $550 ($0)       Hobart $450 ($0)       Darwin $550 ($0)       Canberra $540 (-$10)       National $559 (-$4)                HOUSES FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 5,224 (-134)       Melbourne 5,097 (+90)       Brisbane 3,713 (-84)       Adelaide 1,027 (-3)       Perth 1,568 (-46)       Hobart 471 (-3)       Darwin 127 (+13)       Canberra 658 (-32)       National 17,885 (-199)                UNITS FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 8,171 (-343)       Melbourne 5,447 (-170)       Brisbane 1,682 (-22)       Adelaide 329 (+3)       Perth 561 (-11)       Hobart 159 (-6)       Darwin 176 (+16)       Canberra 597 (-12)       National 17,122 (-545)                HOUSE ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND         Sydney 2.56% (↓)       Melbourne 3.17% (↓)     Brisbane 3.62% (↑)        Adelaide 3.78% (↓)       Perth 4.32% (↓)     Hobart 3.93% (↑)      Darwin 5.65% (↑)      Canberra 3.99% (↑)        National 3.43% (↓)            UNIT ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND         Sydney 5.12% (↓)       Melbourne 6.04% (↓)       Brisbane 6.50% (↓)     Adelaide 6.02% (↑)        Perth 7.22% (↓)     Hobart 4.37% (↑)      Darwin 7.82% (↑)        Canberra 5.76% (↓)       National 5.79% (↓)            HOUSE RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 1.0% (↑)      Melbourne 0.7% (↑)      Brisbane 0.8% (↑)      Adelaide 0.4% (↑)        Perth 0.4% (↓)       Hobart 1.2% (↓)     Darwin 0.5% (↑)      Canberra 1.5% (↑)      National 0.8% (↑)             UNIT RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND         Sydney 1.3% (↓)     Melbourne 1.6% (↑)      Brisbane 0.9% (↑)      Adelaide 0.5% (↑)      Perth 0.7% (↑)      Hobart 2.2% 2.0% (↑)      Darwin 1.0% (↑)        Canberra 1.7% (↓)     National 1.3% (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL HOUSES AND TREND       Sydney 27.0 (↑)        Melbourne 28.3 (↓)     Brisbane 32.3 (↑)      Adelaide 26.3 (↑)      Perth 34.9 (↑)        Hobart 33.4 (↓)     Darwin 48.7 (↑)        Canberra 27.6 (↓)     National 32.3 (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL UNITS AND TREND         Sydney 27.0 (↓)       Melbourne 29.0 (↓)     Brisbane 33.0 (↑)        Adelaide 27.5 (↓)     Perth 38.2 (↑)      Hobart 33.4 (↑)      Darwin 48.3 (↑)      Canberra 33.2 (↑)      National 33.7 (↑)            
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Get Ready for the Full-Employment Recession

Job growth is soaring yet output is falling, by one measure. Blame a historic slump in productivity.

Mon, Jun 5, 2023 8:39amGrey Clock 4 min

You would think from May’s blowout jobs report the economy was booming.

Here’s the puzzle: Other recent data suggest it is in recession.

The dichotomy emerges from the divergent behaviour of employment and output, two key indicators of economic activity.

In May, employers added 339,000 jobs, bringing the total number of jobs added this year to nearly 1.6 million, a gain of 2.5% annualised.

But real gross domestic income, a measure of total economic activity, shrank in both the fourth quarter and the first quarter. Two negative quarters of output growth are one indicator of a recession.

The economy has gone through periods where output has expanded faster than employment, but seldom the other way around, said Ryan Sweet, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

What explains these dissonant signals is productivity, or output per hour worked: It is cratering. That raises questions about whether the much-hyped technology adoption during the pandemic and, more recently, artificial intelligence are making a difference. It also raises the risk that the Federal Reserve will have to raise interest rates more to tame inflation.

Labor productivity fell 2.1% in the first quarter from the fourth at an annual rate, and was down 0.8% in the first quarter from a year earlier, the Labor Department said Thursday. That is the fifth-straight quarter of negative year-over-year productivity growth—the longest such run since records began in 1948.

Those calculations are derived from gross domestic product, which shows output rising at a 1.3% annualised rate in the first quarter. But another key measure—gross domestic income—declined, implying an even bigger productivity collapse.

GDI is the yin to GDP’s yang, measuring incomes earned in wages and profits, while GDP tallies up purchases of goods and services produced. In theory, the two should be equal, since someone’s spending is another’s income.

They never exactly match because of statistical challenges. Lately, though, the divergence is dramatic. “Over the past two quarters, real GDP shows the economy expanding by 1.0%, not far off potential growth, whereas GDI shows it contracting by 1.4%, which amounts to a decent-sized recession,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics. The divergence is ominous: GDI previously undershot GDP dramatically during the 2007-09 financial crisis and in the early 1990s recession, Ashworth said.

The second quarter is also shaping up to be weak. S&P Global Market Intelligence sees second-quarter real GDP expanding at a 0.8% annual rate; Morgan Stanley projects 0.3%. The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow model estimates 2%. Most economists don’t forecast GDI.

Usually, employment plummets during recessions because as factories, offices and restaurants produce less, they need fewer workers. That clearly isn’t happening. “If you look at the early 2000s, that was what was called a ‘jobless recovery,’ because employment took a long time to come back even though the economy was growing,” said Sweet. “This time around it could be the opposite—the economy could be contracting, but you’re not seeing job losses.”

One reason could be labor hoarding. After struggling to hire and train workers during the pandemic-induced labor crunch, employers are now balking at letting them go, even as sales slip, given the labor market’s unusual tightness. There were 10.1 million vacant jobs in April, well above the 5.7 million people looking for work that month. Some firms—particularly services such as restaurants and travel-related businesses—ran short-staffed for the past couple of years and are still catching up.

A possible sign of this is hours worked per week, which in May fell slightly below the 2019 average, after having surged during the pandemic. This drop has been particularly sharp in retail and leisure-and-hospitality—industries that have been especially strapped for workers. The unemployment rate also rose in May, one sign of a potential cooling in the labour market.

It’s “not that technology got worse in the last year, but that businesses were selling less stuff and they’re nervous about their ability to attract employees, so they’re holding on to their employees,” said Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard University who served in the Obama administration. It is also plausible, he said, that the shift to working from home generated a hit to productivity, whose impact grows with the cumulative loss of creative exchange and mentoring.

Productivity growth is important in the long run because it is one of two engines of economic growth, the other being an expanding workforce. Sweet, the Oxford Economics economist, notes businesses have been spending on equipment, software and intellectual property, investments that should eventually raise productivity. Though it may take many years, so should recent advances in artificial intelligence.

A more imminent concern is that when workers produce more, companies can raise wages without increasing prices. When productivity falls, it is harder to keep inflation in check.

This could make things even more challenging for the Fed. “Companies probably have the ability to pass on higher prices to consumers if they want to,” said Neil Dutta, head of economic research at Renaissance Macro Research. “That would be problematic for the Fed.”

Moreover, if GDI is a better indicator of output than GDP, “it would mean that the economy has slowed more than we had thought, without bringing down inflation that much,” Furman said. That might mean it will ultimately take an even bigger economic pullback “to bring inflation down.”


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First, the good news for office landlords: A post-Labor Day bump nudged return-to-office rates in mid-September to their highest level since the onset of the pandemic.

Now the bad: Office attendance in big cities is still barely half of what it was in 2019, and company get-tough measures are proving largely ineffective at boosting that rate much higher.

Indeed, a number of forces—from the prospect of more Covid-19 cases in the fall to a weakening economy—could push the return rate into reverse, property owners and city officials say.

More than before, chief executives at blue-chip companies are stepping up efforts to fill their workspace. Facebook parent Meta Platforms, Amazon and JPMorgan Chase are among the companies that have recently vowed to get tougher on employees who don’t show upIn August, Meta told employees they could face disciplinary action if they regularly violate new workplace rules.

But these actions haven’t yet moved the national return rate needle much, and a majority of companies remain content to allow employees to work at least part-time remotely despite the tough talk.

Most employees go into offices during the middle of the week, but floors are sparsely populated on Mondays and Fridays. In Chicago, some September days had a return rate of over 66%. But it was below 30% on Fridays. In New York, it ranges from about 25% to 65%, according to Kastle Systems, which tracks security-card swipes.

Overall, the average return rate in the 10 U.S. cities tracked by Kastle Systems matched the recent high of 50.4% of 2019 levels for the week ended Sept. 20, though it slid a little below half the following week.

The disappointing return rates are another blow to office owners who are struggling with vacancy rates near record highs. The national office average vacancy rose to 19.2% last quarter, just below the historical peak of 19.3% in 1991, according to Moody’s Analytics preliminary third-quarter data.

Business leaders in New York, Detroit, Seattle, Atlanta and Houston interviewed by The Wall Street Journal said they have seen only slight improvements in sidewalk activity and attendance in office buildings since Labor Day.

“It feels a little fuller but at the margins,” said Sandy Baruah, chief executive of the Detroit Regional Chamber, a business group.

Lax enforcement of return-to-office rules is one reason employees feel they can still work from home. At a roundtable business discussion in Houston last week, only one of the 12 companies that attended said it would enforce a return-to-office policy in performance reviews.

“It was clearly a minority opinion that the others shook their heads at,” said Kris Larson, chief executive of Central Houston Inc., a group that promotes business in the city and sponsored the meeting.

Making matters worse, business leaders and city officials say they see more forces at work that could slow the return to office than those that could accelerate it.

Covid-19 cases are up and will likely increase further in the fall and winter months. “If we have to go back to distancing and mask protocols, that really breaks the office culture,” said Kathryn Wylde, head of the business group Partnership for New York City.

Many cities are contending with an increase in homelessness and crime. San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., which are struggling with these problems, are among the lowest return-to-office cities in the Kastle System index.

About 90% of members surveyed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce said that the city couldn’t recover until homelessness and public safety problems were addressed, said Rachel Smith, chief executive. That is taken into account as companies make decisions about returning to the office and how much space they need, she added.

Cuts in government services and transportation are also taking a toll. Wait times for buses run by Houston’s Park & Ride system, one of the most widely used commuter services, have increased partly because of labor shortages, according to Larson of Central Houston.

The commute “is the remaining most significant barrier” to improving return to office, Larson said.

Some landlords say that businesses will have more leverage in enforcing return-to-office mandates if the economy weakens. There are already signs of such a shift in cities that depend heavily on the technology sector, which has been seeing slowing growth and layoffs.

But a full-fledged recession could hurt office returns if it results in widespread layoffs. “Maybe you get some relief in more employees coming back,” said Dylan Burzinski, an analyst with real-estate analytics firm Green Street. “But if there are fewer of those employees, it’s still a net negative for office.”

The sluggish return-to-office rate is leading many city and business leaders to ask the federal government for help. A group from the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition recently met with elected officials in Washington, D.C., lobbying for incentives for businesses that make commitments to U.S. downtowns.

Baruah, from the Detroit chamber, was among the group. He said the chances of such legislation being passed were low. “We might have to reach crisis proportions first,” he said. “But we’re trying to lay the groundwork now.”


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