Could the Labor Statistics be Rigged?

I just posted at comment at Marketplace.org in response to an article written earlier this year regarding data rigging. The conclusion of the article was that data are noisy, but rigging is not the issue. This, of course is all relevant given the Tweeter, Jack Welch‘s comment accusing the “Chicago boys” of manipulating the data. As Joe Nocera points out in his column today, the last accusation of employment data manipulation was by Richard Nixon of the BLS under his own administration when the numbers were more negative than he would have liked. I am not surprised that a former corporate CEO, particularly Jack Welch, would have so quickly jumped to a data manipulation accusation. Most public company CEOs are quite used to data massaging at least once a quarter to satisfy the stock market. I guess they must assume that everyone else does the same to meet objectives other than accuracy. Below is the posted comment to the Marketplace article.

If one looks at the history of revisions of economic data ranging from GDP to Labor Stats there is a pretty consistent picture. When the economy is declining the revisions tend to be negative. At turning points the revisions are noisy. And, in improving economies the revisions are usually positive. This is not always the case, but usually. We are in a slowly improving economy. The ADP employment reports which even Jack Welch, the tweeter, wouldn’t accuse of being rigged, have been better than the numbers from the labor department prior to revisions. The labor situation is quite dynamic—4 million people leave jobs and take jobs every month. The difference between those two represents the increase or decrease in jobs “created.” Take a look at http://bit.ly/NXCmxF, to get some more info on this. Whoever is president for the next four years will get credit for the continued improvement unless the crazies in Washington don’t deal with the Fiscal Cliff. I am optimistic.

The Facebook IPO: In my view it was quite successful

I don’t totally get the Sturm und Drang around the Facebook IPO.  There may prove to be some issues around disclosure, NASDAQ, stabilizing of price, and anything else someone wants to raise to support their own agenda.  However, I said yesterday on Bloomberg Hays Advantage that from the company’s point of view, this was a very successful IPO.  The company issued public stock against a set of governance issues that in many instances would not have allowed a “normal” company to face its shareholders with a straight face. The underwriting fees were at a discount to “normal” fees.  It basically got the near term high tick on the stock price. It was the third largest raise in the history of IPOs and put additional capital in the company’s coffers and provided more immediate liquidity for its private equity investors than one would ordinarily see on an initial offering. Even with the decline in the stock price, this company is being valued at around $60 Billion, significant multiples of revenues and earnings. Certainly, the senior executives are expecting to continue to build a company over a long time period and have the ability to control that build, given the degrees of freedom to do so without interference from their shareholders. Today’s price of the stock is of less concern to them.  The public shareholders can only vote by buying more stock or selling it. They have very limited say in the governance of the company. The 26 pages of risk factors in the S-1, the filing statement, clearly spelled that out.

From the underwriters’ perspective it doesn’t look as good.  Underwriting does involve taking risk. There is always an attempt by the underwriters to leave something on the table. It takes out a fair amount of their risk and makes room to exercise the “shoe” to sell more stock (and generate more fees) above the original offering amount. The demand appeared to be there, but with some pushing from the company, I am sure, the price and amount were raised, as was the risk.  The world of IPOs has changed though, given the increase in high-frequency trading and the increasing presence of hedge funds in the IPO process. While most companies would prefer to see their stock go into the hands of long-term investors, the underwriters have a client constituency that, implied or otherwise, expects to get significant participation in a hot IPO because of all the other business they do with the investment bank. In this instance there was also a decision made to put more of this stock into the hands of a less-informed individual investor. I would like to know how many of those individual investors actually read the S-1 before they made their decision to buy the stock.

In addition, the concept of being able to “stabilize” the price movements and trading action around an offering is almost non-existent. The dollars available in the market place to influence price movement overwhelm any amount of capital that the underwriters can put to work. In this instance, even the trading systems, as robust as they are, were not adequate to handle the 80 million shares that ultimately traded in the first thirty seconds after the stock was finally opened, much less the 570 million shares traded in the full day. This was a huge offering of shares of a company operating in a mode of creative destruction of legacy businesses with the volatility associated with that. Exciting, newsworthy, with more news to come over many years. I am most excited about the wealth creation that did occur for those who put their capital and their energy at risk in the creation and early funding of the company. Much of that capital will likely make its way back into the creation of other companies that will take advantage of the phenomena of increased processing speeds and the power of information control put into the hands of individuals. Very, very exciting!

The Latest Jobs Report. Lots of Negativity Which I Don’t Buy

I recently joined Patrick O’Keefe, director of economic research at JH Cohn LLP to discuss the April 2012 jobs report. Listen to my talk with Bloomberg’s Kathleen Hays and Vonnie Quinn on “The Hays Advantage” on Bloomberg Radio on May 4, 2012.

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