Productivity 3Q2013 (Preliminary): Productivity Up, Labor Costs Down

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A simple summary of this release is that the rate of productivity growth is up , whilst the rate of growth of labor costs is down.

The headlines annualize quarterly results (Econintersect uses year-over-year change in our analysis). Based on preliminary data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that non-farm business productivity increased at an annual rate of 1.9% in the third quarter of 2013. The market was expecting 2.0% productivity growth. However, if data is analyzed in year-over-year fashion, productivity was up 0.5% year-over-year (no productivity growth).

Unit labor costs (non-farm business) decreased at an annual rate of 0.6% in the 3Q2013 (1.5% year-over-year) with the market expecting an increase of 0.5% to 0.8%.

Although one could argue that productivity improvement must be cost effective, it is not true that all cost improvement are productivity improvements.

Even though a decrease in productivity to the BLS could be considered an increase in productivity to an industrial engineer, this methodology does track recessions. The current levels are well above recession territory.

Seasonally Adjusted Year-over-Year Change in Output of Business Sector

But the output per person growth has been very slight to non-existent.

Seasonally Adjusted Year-over-Year Change of Output per Hour

All this is happening while costs per unit produced continue to grow.

Seasonally Adjusted Year-over-Year Rate of Change of Unit Labor Costs

The headlines from the press release:

Nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased at a 1.9 percent annual rate during the third quarter of 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The increase in productivity reflects increases of 3.7 percent in output and 1.7 percent in hours worked. (All quarterly percent changes in this release are seasonally adjusted annual rates.) From the third quarter of 2012 to the third quarter of 2013, productivity was unchanged as a 1.8 percent increase in output was matched by a 1.8 percent increase in hours worked.

Labor productivity, or output per hour, is calculated by dividing an index of real output by an index of hours worked of all persons, including employees, proprietors, and unpaid family workers.

Unit labor costs in nonfarm businesses decreased 0.6 percent in the third quarter of 2013, while hourly compensation increased 1.3 percent. Unit labor costs rose 1.9 percent over the last four quarters.

BLS defines unit labor costs as the ratio of hourly compensation to labor productivity; increases in hourly compensation tend to increase unit labor costs and increases in output per hour tend to reduce them.

Manufacturing sector productivity rose 0.4 percent in the third quarter of 2013, as output and hours worked increased 1.3 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively. Productivity increased 1.2 percent in the durable goods sector and decreased 0.1 percent in the nondurable goods sector. Over the last four quarters, manufacturing productivity increased 2.3 percent, as output increased 2.3 percent and hours edged up 0.1 percent. Unit labor costs in manufacturing rose 1.3 percent in the third quarter of 2013 and were unchanged from the same quarter a year ago.

Caveats Relating to Productivity

Productivity is determined using monetary criteria, and does not recognize outsourced man hours – in other words, if a business cuts half of its workforce by outsourcing a sub-component or sub-service, this would be a 50% productivity improvement.

These productivity measures describe the relationship between real output and the labor time involved in its production. They show the changes from period to period in the amount of goods and services produced per hour. Although these measures relate output to hours at work of all persons engaged in a sector, they do not measure the specific contribution of labor, capital, or any other factor of production. Rather, they reflect the joint effects of many influences, including changes in technology; capital investment; level of output; utilization of capacity, energy, and materials; the organization of production; managerial skill; and the characteristics and effort of the work force.

Econintersect believes a better measure (if you must use monetary tools to tract productivity) would be competitiveness.

Looking at productivity / output long term – output fall below 0% year-over-year change is a good sign that a recession is underway. Another way to look at it – if productivity rate of gain is falling, this could be an indicator a recession is coming.

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Comment Note by reader Roger Erickson:

Of course it does. That’s why we’re still here. That equation has to be true of every surviving system that is still growing.
Jumping to the inevitable conclusion, our culture is going nowhere if the gains from productivity growth are not ploughed into methods for parsing the unpredictable outcomes of Option Recombination.

All of biology has settled on full Sexual Recombination. Natural Selection – to win an Adaptive Race – STARTS with selection & culling by context, but ACCELERATES with self-selection & self-tuning, from diversity-based resiliency. Evolution can’t occur if diversity-based-resiliency doesn’t chase context reality.

What we call human culture is simply one of many organized methods for accelerating natural selection.

Selection on a cultural scale (using Cultural Selection, diversity-based internal resiliency) requires INVESTING in Cultural Recombination, i.e. generating a robust middle class.

We cannot predict where recombinant capabilities will arise. We pursue massively parallel recombination to generate it. The only way to accelerate discovery of unpredictably distributed personal/cultural capabilities is to invest in the distributed selection engine. Hint, it’s called a @#$%^&! Middle Class.

This ain’t Rocket Science. Just invest in a vibrant middle class, or kiss your vaunted culture good day.

One reply on “Productivity 3Q2013 (Preliminary): Productivity Up, Labor Costs Down”

  1. Exactly right Steven. Productivity is killing USA, by both outsourcing, and labor price drop due to automation taking workers jobs and over-producing for which export markets do not exist is very negative. Lower disposable wage incomes at home are lowering domestic consumption and increasing private debt for mere survivals hence more foreclosures and citizen & states bankruptcies pension raids etc. 
    One need merely examine Professor (Academic theorist) Vice-minister (Economic Practitioner) Nicholi Kondratiev theories and wave chart to see the same effect each new labor saving innovation on 300 years history of recession/depression starts to be certain. Falls in domestic consumption and product prices not falling ends both export and domestic consumption and as he and Karl Marx proved supply needs demand balance to ever hope to work to National economic benefits rather than inventory growth and business failures.
    “Marx’s theories about society, economics and politics – collectively known as Marxism – hold that human societies progress through class struggle: a conflict between an ownership class that controls production and a dispossessed labouring class that provides the labour for production.”  “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Production to demand requisites. ..
    Human history began with free, productive and creative work that was over time coerced and dehumanised, a trend most apparent under capitalism and On one hand, Marx, in the 19th century’s deepest critique of the dehumanising aspects of this system, noted that defining features of capitalism include alienation, exploitation, & recurrin cyclical depressions leading to mass unemployment; on the other hand capitalism is also characterised by “revolutionizing, industrializing and universalizing qualities of development, growth and progressivity”  Marx meant industrialisation, urbanisation, technological progress, increased productivity and growth, rationality and scientific revolution), that are responsible for progress Marx stressed that capitalism was unstable, and prone to periodic crises.
    At the same time, Marx stressed that capitalism was unstable, and prone to periodic crises.[92] He suggested that over time, capitalists would invest more and more in new technologies, and less and less in labour.[77] Since Marx believed that surplus value appropriated from labour is the source of profits, he concluded that the rate of profit would fall even as the economy grew.[170] Marx believed that increasingly severe crises would punctuate this cycle of growth, collapse, and more growth.[170]Moreover, he believed that in the long-term this process would necessarily enrich and empower the capitalist class and impoverish the proletariat.[170][196] In section one of The Communist Manifesto Marx describes feudalism, capitalism, and the role internal social contradictions play in the historical process:
    In economics, economic equilibrium is a state where economic forces such as supply and demand are balanced and in the absence of external influences the (equilibrium) values of economic variables will not change. For example, in the standard text-book model of perfect competition, equilibrium occurs at the point at which quantity demanded and quantity supplied are equal.[1] Market equilibrium in this case refers to a condition where a market price is established through competition such that the amount of goods or services sought by buyers is equal to the amount of goods or services produced by sellers. This price is often called the competitive price or market clearing price and will tend not to change unless demand or supply changes.
    Obama USA today is paralleling a phenomenon known as credit rationing, in which banks hold interest rates low to create an excess demand for loans, so they can pick and choose whom to lend to. Further, economic equilibrium can correspond with monopoly, where the monopolistic firm maintains an artificial shortage to prop up prices and to maximize profits. Finally,Keynesian macroeconomics points to underemployment equilibrium, where a surplus of labor (i.e., cyclical unemployment) co-exists for a long time with a shortage of aggregate demand. Without a semblance of balance between supply & demand will always reflect from unbalanced capital & labor demand caused my automation. Kondratiev Wave shows this at every single recession & depression start of the 300 years since farming 1730 and industrial 1775 revolution that is a record of six cases each roughly 50 years apart.

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