January 7th, 2018
by Steve Stofka
This week I’ll look at a few long-term trends in the marketplace for goods and labor. Millennials born between approximately 1982 – 2002 are now the largest generation alive. Their tastes will dominate the marketplace for the next twenty years at least. In the first eighteen years of the new century, change has been a dominant theme.
Some businesses drowned in the rush of change. A former member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the film giant Eastman Kodak is a shadow of its former self after it emerged from bankruptcy in 2013.
Some in the music business complain that the younger generations don’t want to pay for music. Much of YouTube music is pirated material and yes, Google, the site’s owner, does remove content in response to complaints. There’s just so much of it. Album sales revenue in the U.S., both digital and physical, fell 40% in the five years from 2011 to 2016. Globally, the entire music business has lost 40% in revenues since the millennium and is just now starting to grow again (More).
Some in the porn industry make the same complaint as those in the music business. As online demand for porn grew, the industry helped pioneer digital payment security. Now there is too much free porn on the internet. Producers and distributors pirate each other’s content. Who wants to invest in good production values only to see their work ripped off? (Atlantic article/interview on the porn industry) Will the lack of quality reduce demand? ROFL!
An ever-diminishing number of city newspapers struggle to survive. Some complain that people don’t want to pay for local news. Local reporters have long been the bloodhounds who sniff out the corruption in city halls and state capitols around the country. There are fewer of them now. Think that corruption has been reduced? ROFL!
Surviving bookstores glance over their shoulders at Amazon’s growing physical presence in the marketplace. This year Amazon became the 4th largest chain of physical bookstores. The large book publishing houses try to preserve their hegemony as readers turn to a greater variety of alternatively published books.
As online sales grow, brick and mortar stores struggle to produce enough revenue growth to sustain the costs of a physical store. During the past three years, an ETF basket of retail sector stocks (XRT) is down almost 10%.
Hip-hop music was a fad of the ‘80s and ’90 until It wasn’t. Rock ‘n Roll was a fad that has lasted sixty years. In the early 60s, the Beatles were told to make it rich while they could, and they worked hard to capitalize on their success before it fizzled. Never happened.
How are we going to predict the future if it is so unpredictable? Some standards fade while some fads become standards. We face the past, not the future, as the future sneaks up on us from behind.
A few notes on what was the weakest employment report of the past year. Job gains were only 150K as reported to government surveyors but the percentage of businesses responding to the survey was particularly low. Expect the BLS to revise those job gains higher next month when more of the survey forms come in. I have long used an average of the BLS numbers and ADP’s estimate of private job gains. That average was 200K – a healthy number indicative of a growing economy.
The long-term trend remains positive. The annual growth of total employment should be at 1.5% or above. We are currently holding that threshold despite the loss of jobs to automation and the growing number of Boomers retiring. Growth in construction jobs remains at or above the growth in total employment – another healthy sign.
The employment market faces a long-term challenge as the largest generation of workers in history is retiring. In January 2000, 69 million adults were out of the labor force. That figure now stands at 95 million. As a ratio, there were 53 adults not in the labor force for every 100 adults with a job. Now there are 65 adults for each 100 workers.
Although growth in hourly wages is at 2.5%, weekly paychecks have grown 3% as part-time workers get more hours or find full-time jobs. Look for inflation to approach that growth in paychecks.
When inflation rises above paycheck growth, workers struggle more than usual to balance their income with spending. I’ll use that same chart to highlight some stress points during the past decade.
As the economy continues to improve, the Fed is expected to continue increasing interest rates either two or three times in the coming year. After a decade of zero interest rates (ZIRP), those with savings accounts may have noticed that their bank is paying 1% or more in interest. It is still a far cry from the 4% to 5% rates paid on CDs in the ’90s and 2000s. This past decade has been particularly worrisome for older folks trying to live off their savings.