Last week's uninspiring gain in employment disappointed Wall Street and sent the markets into the doldrums. As July approaches and the start of most state and local government's new fiscal year begins, expect a lot of pink slips in the mail.
Unfortunately, the continued slow economy and the end of federally-sponsored stimulus programs are delivering a one-two punch to most state budgets. Since states are required to balance their budgets each year, cutting spending is a necessity. Most economists are forecasting at least a loss of 110,000 jobs in local government sectors in the third quarter.
Negotiations with state employee unions have been largely one sided. Either the unions accept large wage and benefit concessions or the axe will fall. Most unions are digging in their feet, arguing that there are other areas of the budget more deserving of cuts or that taxes should be raised on those best able to afford it in order to balance budgets. Their arguments are falling on deaf ears.
In Hartford, Conn., for example, Gov. Daniel Malloy has given the unions a choice of massive layoffs or $1.6 billion in concessions. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is demanding $450 million in give backs or unions should prepare for 9,800 state employee layoffs. Vermont's state unions, on the other hand, have decided to pre-empt the layoff threat by agreeing to take furloughs amounting to 40 hours a week over the next year. Massachusetts is still negotiating its budget but you can bet legislators will be going down the same road as neighboring states.
At the same time, tax revenues, although rising, are still anemic at best. In states such as New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, where a large slug of tax revenues is dependent on Wall Street jobs and bonuses, the news is less than positive.
Banks and brokers are considering a new round of layoffs. Some banks are already laying off, like First Niagara Financial Group in Connecticut. Morgan Stanley said it will be reducing headcount while Wells Fargo and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch have been shutting offices across the country. Others are planning the same thing.
The entire banking sector continues to struggle with the de-leveraging process of bad loans, foreclosures, new regulations and volatile financial markets. Stock markets are not what they used to be, nor are the IPO markets. Readers are probably aware that volume on the exchanges has plummeted, despite an 80 percent rebound in the averages.
The disappearance of retail investors after the financial crash, the advent of exchange traded funds, which are quickly replacing individual equities as the investment of choice, and the massive increase in electronic trading have conspired to gut the profitability of what was once a huge profit center for the financial community.
When you combine the state and local layoffs and new layoffs in the private sector, the total will make further gains in employment problematic in the short term. It may very well take until next year before we see unemployment fall by much more than a half percent.
It isn't the end of the world, unless of course you are one of the unemployed or soon to be. The plus side of the layoffs and other spending cuts that will shortly confront us is that it will put our local and state governments on a firmer financial footing. That is extremely important down the road since municipalities will need to continue to borrow money through bond offerings in the municipal markets. Without balancing budgets, that would become extremely difficult. It appears to me that layoffs, no matter how painful, are better than bankruptcy.
Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold or held by BMM. Direct your inquiries to Bill at (toll free) or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.