By JOHN REID BLACKWELL Richmond Times-Dispatch Sep 8, 2017
Jack Kleinhenz, the National Retail Federation’s chief economist, spoke Friday morning at an economic outlook breakfast hosted by the local Retail Merchants group.
GREGORY J. GILLIGAN/TIMES-DISPATCH
Predictions of the demise of bricks-and-mortar retail because of online shopping are premature, an economist told Richmond-area merchants Friday as part of a mostly optimistic economic outlook report.
“Ninety percent of spending by consumers is still brick-and-mortar,” said Jack Kleinhenz, the National Retail Federation’s chief economist, speaking at an economic outlook breakfast hosted by the local Retail Merchants group.
“E-commerce is changing our lives, there is no doubt about it. It is going to gain,” he said. “I think that retailers who can adjust and incorporate e-commerce into various channels are going to be successful.”
Despite some high-profile retail store closings nationwide that have grabbed attention this year and raised questions about the impact of online shopping, retail store openings still have outpaced closings, Kleinhenz said.
He cited a report by IHL Group, touted on the National Retail Federation’s website, indicating there will be a net increase in retail store openings of more than 4,000 in 2017. In June alone, he said, there were 620,000 job openings in the retail industry.
“I am trying to suggest to you that the retail industry is a lot more healthy than it is made out to be,” he said.
Kleinhenz gave a mostly optimistic outlook for the economy, pointing to positive gross domestic product growth, falling unemployment rates and solid job gains as good signs for retail sales.
He declined to give a prediction for this year’s holiday retail sales, saying more data need to be collected before a forecast is done.
An informal, text-message poll about holiday sales expectations was conducted among the roughly 160 attendees at the event held at the Westin Richmond hotel. Of those who responded, 68 percent said they think sales will be up.
“I think the economy has been doing OK — it is a solid outlook,” Kleinhenz said. “We are getting very close to full employment, so we won’t see a lot of job growth.”
Potential negatives include uncertainty about federal government policies affecting business, and lackluster wage growth since the recession ended. “Wages have not moved up as fast as what we would have thought during an expansion,” he said.
As the chief economist for the largest retail trade organization in the world, Jack Kleinhenz’s days revolve around big data and economic forecasting models. With over 35 years of experience, Kleinhenz is well-versed in examining data patterns and trying to provide some perspective. “I’m a storyteller,” he says, and forecasting is “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Raw data is put into models and it’s Kleinhenz’s job to provide the narrative — a combination of art and science.
On this week’s episode of Retail Gets Real, Kleinhenz sits down in the podcast studio to explain how and why we forecast the economic future and what he thinks is on the horizon.
While economists use different models, they all use the same variables, so there are established core patterns. To measure income levels, for example, the Bureau of Economic Analysis collects data on a month-to-month basis, taking into account such factors as personal income, after-tax income and consumption levels. “These are estimates,” Kleinhenz clarifies. “They’re not perfect numbers.”
To get a more accurate picture, part of Kleinhenz’s job is to continually converse with retailers. “It’s kind of a moving picture we’re trying to figure out,” he says. Technological innovations have greatly changed the task of forecasting. The concept of big data is transformative; when information comes in real time instead of through surveys, it greatly increases the accuracy of predictions.
“The market has been changing and consumers have changed their behavior.”
“What’s going on in the financial markets and these stores does not necessarily mean that consumers have gone away and stopped shopping,” Kleinhenz says about the shifts taking place in the retail industry today. “The market has been changing and consumers have changed their behavior.”
Kleinhenz is optimistic about the future, saying the changes have more to do with demographics: The dense population in the U.S. Midwest 20-30 years ago, as one example, has moved to more urban areas in the Southeast and Southwest, and the shopping malls that catered to their needs do not attract as much demand anymore.
Another reason is that consumers don’t spend the way they used to. Younger consumers have drastically different buying habits, make life decisions later and seek more experiences — opposed to products — than older generations. “People still want to shop,” Kleinhenz says, “It’s recreational. It’s social.”
Listen to this week’s episode to learn why the perception of retail’s transformation is far from the reality, and catch up on some of our most popular past episodes, like Get ready for Gen Z and the future of the retail store.
Susan Reda is one of NRF’s co-hosts on Retail Gets Real. Meet all the co-hosts and learn more about the show.
ACE Report: Jobs jumped in July, but longer-term data is down
July was a good month for jobs in Northeast Ohio, as the region added 6,200 positions on a seasonally adjusted basis from June, according to the latest Ahola Crain’s Employment Report.
But dig a little deeper into the numbers and there’s less to be excited about.
For one, the July increase followed declines in the previous two months — losses of 5,527 jobs in June and 3,708 in May in the seven-county Northeast Ohio region. And, as Cleveland Heights economist Jack Kleinhenz, who developed the ACE Report economic model, pointed out in an analysis of the most recent data, the region’s estimated total employment of 1,173,216 in July represents 3,577 fewer jobs than the like month a year earlier.
The July total payroll estimate for the region also was ever-so-slightly below the six-month trend, which is 1,173,492, according to the ACE Report data.
Service-producing firms registered a larger share of the July increase, at 3,944 jobs, while the goods-producing sector showed a gain of 2,256 jobs, Kleinhenz reported. The report is based on payroll data from about 3,000 employers and is gathered by The Ahola Corp., a Brecksville-based payroll and human resources firm.
In his analysis, Kleinhenz wrote that the growth in regional employment last month “is consistent with July’s national employment release showing a solid increase of 209,000 jobs. The job gains are consistent with 2%-plus economic growth, steady consumer spending and Fed policy as currently projected for a December rate hike.”
The so-so ACE Report results are consistent with a Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland report released on Thursday, Aug. 17, that found employment growth in Cleveland “has been weak,” and stated that while the economy here is growing, it’s doing so at a slower pace than that of Ohio and the nation as a whole.
Stronger growth could be ahead, Kleinhenz noted, as the U.S. economy “bounced back in the second quarter, growing at an estimated 2.6% on an annualized basis. This is more than twice the pace of the first quarter and brings expansion in the first half of 2017 close to the 2% underlying trend pace.”
The regional employment roller coaster continued in June with Northeast Ohio losing 5,518 jobs from the May total, as total private sector employment dropped to a projected 1,167,386 — a 0.47% loss. Looking year-to-year, past the monthly fluctuations, the job loss in the seven-county metropolitan area since June 2016 is 0.02%, or 290 jobs, according to the Ahola Crain’s Employment, or ACE, Report.
The June job loss was heaviest in the goods-producing section, which includes manufacturing and construction — 3,380 jobs lost between May and June versus 2,138 jobs lost in the larger service sector, which accounts for 82% of the private sector jobs tracked in the ACE survey.
Year over year, the goods sector lost 4,912 jobs versus a gain of 4,621 jobs in services.
Jack Kleinhenz, the Cleveland Heights economist who created the ACE Report model, said the losses are not a serious concern.
“Too much should not be made out of June’s decline,” he said. “It does not point to any major concerns for regional growth. The national and regional economies continue to wander forward at a moderate pace.”
Kleinhenz attributed part of the decline to the auto industry, a large employer in the region, and the summer shutdowns of auto plants.
The July 12 Beige Book, the Federal Reserve Bank’s report on the economy, noted that payrolls in the Fourth District, which includes all of Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and the northern panhandle of West Virginia, continued to expand since the last Beige Book report released May 31, although at a slightly slower pace.
Longer term and nationally, Kleinhenz noted that the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reported the manufacturing sector nationally grew in June and the overall economy grew for the 97th consecutive month. The ISM manufacturing employment index showed a 3.7% increase over May.
“The labor market remains very healthy and continues to show the confidence in workers willing to leave one job for another,” Kleinhenz said.
Closer to home, the recent Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, in its “2024 Job Outlook,” is projecting that employment in the region will grow by 74,700 jobs to 1,475,300 by 2024. That’s a 5.3% increase over the 1,400,600 employed in the 2014 base year. The projected growth will come despite a loss of 7,200 manufacturing jobs.
The growth sectors include health care (27,400 jobs), food preparation and serving (7,100) and transportation and material handling (5,000). Many of the jobs that are expected to grow the fastest were in low-paying occupations such as home health aide and restaurant cooks. The report also projected significant demand for registered nurses and computer systems analysts.
With a strong rebound in job growth last month, the labor market is back on solid ground. But workers are still struggling to get the substantial wage gains they’ve been craving since the end of the recession, economists said.
Here are the highlights:
The economy added 222,000 net new jobs, the Labor Department said — the best performance since February and well above analyst expectations.
The unemployment rate ticked up to 4.4% from May’s 16-year low, but because more people joined the labor force.
May’s job growth was revised up to 152,000 and April also was revised up, as part of a gain of 47,000 more total jobs for those two months than initially estimated.
Wages continued their steady but slow recent growth, increasing 4 cents to $26.25.
“Hiring is back to where it has been throughout much of the 8-year-old economic expansion,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at financial information website Bankrate.com.
“Growth is modest, not spectacular, which is to be expected for a mature expansion.”
Job growth returns to 2016 pace
With June’s strong growth and the statistical revisions, monthly job gains have averaged 180,000 this year, close to last year’s level of 187,000.
On Monday, President Trump criticized the media for ignoring the “great jobs numbers” since he took office. The White House offered a muted response Friday, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer touting the job gains on Twitter as “great news” for U.S. workers.
Economists said the pace of job growth this year has not been great, but has been solid. And the bounce back in June allays any fears of a significant slowdown.
“This was a good jobs report. It suggests there’s still a fair amount of vitality in the U.S. labor market,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Markit, a business research and analysis firm.
But the report probably overstated the strength of the market somewhat because it was boosted by a gain of 35,000 net new jobs in state and local government after the sector shed 8,000 positions in May, he said.
The June gains likely represent a temporary jump as school districts made new hires for the fall, Behravesh said. He expected job growth in coming months to be in the range of 150,000 to 180,000.
Retail gains jobs for first time since January
June’s job growth was boosted by large increases in hiring in the healthcare and social-assistance sector, as well as by local governments.
But the most notable move was by retailers. The sector added 8,100 net new jobs in June after shedding 7,200 the previous month.
From February through May, retail payrolls declined by 79,400 jobs as the sector struggled with the growing shift to online shopping.
“The gain in June shows that the industry is still very much meeting the demands of consumers and households,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist for the National Retail Federation.
He cautioned that “one month does not make a trend,” a point echoed by other economists.
“We won’t see sustained employment growth in the retail sector,” said Cathy Barrera, chief economic advisor at ZipRecruiter, the Santa Monica job-hunting site.
“Between the competition with online options for consumers and for new technologies that are replacing workers in stores — self checkout is one example of that — I don’t think those jobs are going to be there in the long run,” she said.
A higher jobless rate is actually good
The unemployment rate rose 0.1 percentage point last month after hitting its lowest level since 2001 in May. But the increase, to 4.4%, was for a good reason — 361,000 people joined the labor force a month after it contracted.
That nudged up the percentage of working-age Americans either working or actively looking for a job to 62.8%. That labor force participation rate still is near a four-decade low, and economists said the increasing retirement of baby boomers makes it difficult to boost the level significantly.
The participation rates for men and women ages 25 to 54 have almost gotten back to their pre-recession levels, Barrera said. But for Americans ages 16 to 24, the recovery has been slower.
“It makes sense that this is the last group to recover,” she said. “There just weren’t a lot of jobs available for young people high school-age or college-age during the recession.”
Some of them have opted to stay in school longer to boost their job qualifications, Barrera said. Getting those Americans back in the workforce will help tighten the labor market and lead to increased wages.
Wage growth is still struggling
Average hourly earnings increased 4 cents last month to $26.25, a slight improvement over May’s gains.
For the 12 months ended June 30, wages have increased 2.5%. That’s a slight increase over the 12-month period ended May 31 and above the low rate of inflation. But it’s still short of the stronger growth economists have been hoping for as the labor market tightens.
“If wages accelerate, that will encourage more people who might have given up looking for work to start looking again,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist with employment website Indeed.com. “That’s why wages are an important and the most troubling piece of the puzzle right now.”
With unemployment low, employers should be forced to increase wages to lure new workers and keep existing ones.
But some of the biggest job gains in June were in lower-wage sectors, like healthcare and temporary workers, which kept wage growth down, Kolko said
“It’s unclear how much the slower wage growth is due to long-term factors, like productivity slowdown and demographic shifts, and how much of it could be reversed by a tighter labor market and employers bidding up wages,” he said.
Federal Reserve monetary policymakers have been expecting faster wage growth as the unemployment rate falls.
Still, the job-creation figures for June should provide relief to central bank officials, who have been increasing a key short-term interest rate in large part because of the strength of the labor market.
In June, the Fed nudged the rate up for the third time in six months. Even though the pace of job growth has moderated this year, Fed Chairwoman Janet L. Yellen said the labor market “continues to strengthen.”
If job growth remains solid, the Fed is expected to raise the rate again before the end of the year.
The report estimates that the seven-county Northeast Ohio region employed 1,174,540 people in May, down from 1,177,045 in April.
The report is based on payroll data from 3,000 employers, gathered by The Ahola Corp., a Brecksville payroll and human services firm.
Cleveland Heights economist Jack Kleinhenz, who developed the ACE Report economic model, said the decline in the May seven-county employment estimate, “while perhaps a bit discouraging, can be an indication that labor markets are tightening.”
He cited a National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) jobs report from May that found business owners are upbeat about sales and are looking to add staff, but that firms say it’s hard to find qualified workers.
Kleinhenz said two factors are key to the shrinking labor pool.
Northeast Ohio’s unemployment rate fell to 5.1% in April from 6.2% in March, according to data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. That translates into a decline in the jobless of 14,200 people, from 85,900 to 71,700. At the same time, baby boomers are retiring.
To Kleinhenz that suggests that “there are not enough people out of work to go back to work.”
Also, Kleinhenz sees a longer-term upward trend, with regional employment growing by 2,647 in the 12-month period ending in May, though that gain was accomplished by five up months overcoming seven months of job declines. By comparison, national employment has registered 80 straight months of increase.
The greatest loss in jobs came in the goods-producing sector, which includes manufacturing and construction, a loss of 1,655 jobs versus the loss of 850 service sector jobs. That correlates, Kleinhenz said, to recent U.S. Census figures showing that factory orders declined 0.2% in May.
Manufacturing production was down 0.4%, Kleinhenz said, including a 2% decline in motor vehicle output.
“I continue to expect a pickup in the pace of economic activity in the second quarter and modest growth for the remainder of 2017,” Kleinhenz said. “The second-quarter 2017 National Association for Business Economics outlook median forecast calls for average annual GDP growth of 2.2% for 2017 as a whole.”
The Cleveland-Akron metropolitan area lost 798 jobs between February and March of this year, but that slight dip means little to the long-term outlook since the region gained 708 jobs between March 2016 and March 2017 with employment in March at 1,175,598 on a seasonally adjusted basis.
“We are still holding our own relative to last year, but at a slower pace currently,” wrote Jack Kleinhenz, the Cleveland Heights economist who created the ACE Report model, in his analysis. “The economy is attempting to turn the corner toward a bit faster growth, but the momentum has been slower than expected. The unexpected backsliding in March car sales and February’s flat consumer spending confirm a sluggish start to the spring selling season.”
Kleinhenz wrote that policy uncertainties due to the wrangling of issues by the Trump administration and Congress — in particular the size, composition and the timing of any tax cut and infrastructure spending package — are complicating the outlook.
Kleinhenz added that a conundrum within the labor market is a resistance to wage growth in the face of growing job openings and a shortage of qualified workers for skilled positions.
“Until wage gains accelerate, overall economic spending is expected to continue on a moderate path,” he wrote.
In its annual Labor Day report last year, Policy Matters Ohio, the labor-backed Cleveland think tank, focused on those wages. It argued that while pay in Ohio has been growing — to $16.61 an hour for the median worker — it remains far behind what the median wage was in 1979 when adjusted for inflation.
“Wages are behind in large part because our fastest-growing sectors and our most common jobs are low wage,” the report, “Still Struggling: The State of Working Ohio 2016,” said. “Of our 13 most common occupations, only two pay more than 200% of the official poverty line for a family of three.”
The state lost 75,000 relatively well-paying manufacturing jobs between December 2007 and June 2016, Policy Matters reported, while gaining 176,700 lower-paying jobs in education and the health services and the leisure and hospitality industries.
A pair of economic analysts at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland see wage growth a little differently.
In an “Economic Commentary” released in March, Roberto Pinheiro and Meifeng Yang contend that wage growth nationally has been sluggish since the Great Recession due mostly to weak growth in labor productivity and lower-than-expected inflation. But they argue that “wage growth since late 2014 has actually been above what would be consistent with realized labor productivity growth and inflation, and this trend in wages reflects an increase in labor’s share of income.”
This, they write, shows “evidence that this increase in the labor share may be due to a reversal of the trend to replace labor with capital.”
After hitting a low point during the recession in December 2009, the retail sector has reliably been churning out more jobs. Though the Labor Department’s monthly employment summary provides only a snapshot of the labor market, this is the second month in a row that retail payrolls have registered substantial losses — a possible sign that larger structural changes are in the works.
“E-commerce and technology have absolutely changed the rules of the game and given massive amounts of power to the consumer,” said Simeon Siegel, a retail analyst at Nomura. “There is a self-help mentality now. People walk around with their phones in their hand to tell them the best model and the best price. You don’t need as many people walking around trying to convince you to buy a sweater.”
The vitality of the retail sector has been muscled out of the spotlight lately by a focus on better-paying manufacturing jobs, which President Trump sees as crucial to the revival of the middle class, particularly in the Midwest and the South. But retail outlets still employ millions of Americans and serve as an entry point into the labor force, especially for those with less education and fewer skills.
Remember that while General Motors was once the single largest employer, today Walmart is.
Workers in the 1970s at a General Motors plant in Detroit. The automaker was once the single largest private employer in the United States.
DAN DMITRUCK / UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
Yet even Walmart is having to contend with a sea change in the way people shop. The company, for instance, has been closing smaller stores in rural areas, according to Barbara Denham, a senior economist at Reis, a real estate data and analytics firm.
Jack Kleinhenz, the chief economist at the National Retail Federation, does not discount the magnitude of the transformation that is occurring in retail, but cautioned that the monthly job figures are also highly subject to temporary vagaries. “One of the challenges we have at this time of the year is the quirkiness of seasonal forces,” he said.
An unexpectedly warm February and snowy March and the late arrival of Easter could have elbowed the numbers in an uncharacteristic way.
The retail employment number, he said, does not necessarily “translate into backsliding of retail sales.”
Diane Swonk, the chief executive of DS Economics in Chicago, agreed. The falloff in hiring “is not a reflection of a consumer than can’t spend, but rather of how they spend,” she said. “Retail is one of the largest employers in the country, and it’s going to go through a pretty massive secular restructuring. We shop differently now, and no one has the right model.”
Most shopping is still done in person rather than online, but shopping patterns are shifting. Ms. Swonk mentioned research that shows consumers like to buy online but return things to bricks-and-mortar stores.
“Clearly, it’s just not one or the other, not just bricks or clicks,” she said. But the marketplace is rapidly changing and retailers “are not sure what the endgame is.”
E-commerce may cause a drop in retail jobs, but a rise in warehouse, distribution and transportation jobs.
At the same time, consumers have not only been changing how they shop, but what they buy. Ms. Denham noted that while the entire retail sector ended up down nearly 30,000 jobs, the restaurant industry showed a gain of 20,000 in March on top of steady previous growth.
“There’s been a shift in consumer spending from things to experiences,” she said, “that’s why restaurants are doing so well.”
The seven counties of Northeast Ohio added 943 jobs in February, a modest number, but the second straight month of job increases, according to the Ahola Crain’s Employment (ACE) Report.
Year-over-year, payrolls were up by 5,422 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis, a 0.46% increase.
February payrolls for the Cleveland Akron Metropolitan Area equaled 1,180,415 on a seasonally adjusted basis. Between February 2016 and February 2017, most of the increase in jobs came from the service section, 5,137 jobs, while the goods-producing sector showed a gain of 285 jobs.
“Recent economic data releases are very encouraging about the near-term outlook for the U.S. economy, and (we) should in turn have a similar expectation for economic activity in Northeast Ohio,” said Jack Kleinhenz, the Cleveland Heights economist who created the ACE model.
“The data in many cases continues on a roller coaster pattern, which makes the strength of the momentum hard to detect,” Kleinhenz said. “Nonetheless, (the data) include the NFIB’s small business optimism index that remains elevated; housing starts increased in February; the job opening and labor turnover survey was unchanged but positive; February’s retail sales were tepid; business inventories increased; and industrial production was unchanged after dipping in January.”
That forecast agrees with a recently released estimate from economists at Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Service Group, which described the Northeast Ohio economy as “inching forward” during the first quarter of 2017.
“The region’s economic growth is hamstrung, however, by a manufacturing industry that is struggling on multiple fronts,” the report stated. “Steel production and employment in 2016 had been hit hard by cheap imports and the collapse in energy prices that reduced investment in oil and gas wells.”
The PNC economists did see hopeful signs — the oil and gas rig count began to edge up in the last half of 2016, high steel tariffs are expected to help domestic producers, and the auto industry is coming off a record year — at least in the short term.
“Longer term, continued population loss will cause Northeast Ohio to be a below-average performer in terms of job growth,” the report stated before ending on a more optimistic note.
“Though still only in their early development stages, manufacturing hubs for the machinery of new energy technologies and transportation equipment hold great promise for those regions that can attract and cultivate them,” according to the report. “The (Northeast Ohio) region’s lower costs and availability of underutilized assets will be an important tool in attracting new industries and opportunities into the region in the years ahead.”
Dr. Jack Kleinhenz of Kleinhenz & Associates placed first for his 2-year, 3-year, and 4-year horizon projections ending in 2016 based on the Pulsenomics Home Price Expectation Survey. He will receive the Crystal Ball Award from Pulsenomics for the accuracy of his projections.
Pulsenomics® is an independent economics research and consulting firm that delivers product strategy and marketing solutions for corporate and institutional clients. Their expertise is in the U.S. housing and capital markets, and in data analytics and exchange-traded financial products.
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