Fears of a million layoffs a month in corporate America

As many as a million American jobs could be lost every month by next spring as businesses struggle to raise capital in financial markets consumed by fear, according to a new analysis.

November was the worst month in the US labour market since the oil crisis of 1974, as more than 500,000 US workers were laid off, according to official figures released on Friday.

But Graham Turner, of consultancy GFC Economics, says the rising cost of corporate debt is now flashing a red warning signal that far worse is to come over the next few months and job losses are heading for levels last seen in the 1930s Great Depression.

Corporate bond yields have rocketed since the credit crisis began as investors flee risky assets in search of safe havens such as US Treasuries. That effectively means many firms are being forced to pay eye-watering interest rates to borrow funds.

Turner says when the gap between the yield on high-risk company bonds and US Treasuries widens sharply, unemployment tends to shoot up – and current credit conditions are pointing to a doubling in the pace of layoffs, to more than a million workers a month, by spring.

‘The correlation is holding up all too well,’ he said. ‘It’s very disconcerting.’ He added that the pace of layoffs already happening in the US ‘is indicative of panic’. During the 1970s oil crisis the panic was relatively short-lived, he says. ‘But the worry now is that this will just roll on and on.’

On Friday alone, embattled car firm General Motors, fund manager Legg Mason, and motor parts supplier Gentex announced plans to shed staff.

November’s jobs figures were so much worse than analysts had expected that the Dow Jones share index actually rallied by 259 points, more than 3 per cent, as investors bet that Washington would have to launch a major new rescue package for the economy even before President-elect Barack Obama takes over the White House in January.

The scale of the layoffs in the US, which pushed unemployment to 6.7 per cent, could also point towards a further deterioration in conditions in the UK: David Blanchflower, an independent member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee and labour market specialist, warned recently: ‘What happens in the US tends to be repeated six to nine months later in Britain’.

David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, believes Britain’s companies are gearing up for large-scale layoffs.

‘There will be a huge raft of redundancies. I am sensing that talking to firms. The worry is that next year the job losses will be just horrendous. All sectors are taking the hit. In the middle of the year it was construction and estate agencies. Now it is services, the automotive industry, retailers. Firms are waiting for Christmas and if they can’t see any improvement they will cut their payrolls.’

Woolworths administrators made 450 of its office staff redundant on Friday, but the future of the 25,000 staff who work in its stores remains uncertain.

Heather Stewart and Ruth Sunderland
Sunday December 7 2008

Source: The Observer

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