Flash Boys and All About High Frequency Trading: A Book Review

Are you a fan of Michael Lewis? Wondering about Flash Boys? The book itself would do just fine, but perhaps you are like “What’s this High Frequency thing?” To assist I’ve created a review of two books: Flash Boys by Michael Lewis and All About High Frequency Trading by Michael Durbin. Flash Boys is a terrific narrative of a fundamental change that has happened in the financial markets. And change is happening elsewhere. The ideas underpinning high frequency trading are now found in other industries. So I’d like anyone who’s interested in Flash Boys to consider All About High Frequency Trading as a primer. An equally easy to read book but more of an educational work.

Lewis and Flash

Summary:  Flash Boys is an eye opener. The type of book you can read in a week and realize when you’re done the world is different now. The very first chapter sets the tone as it describes the investment to connect NYC and Chicago, places connected for some time.  The entrepreneurs spent millions of dollars to create the shortest path possible between NYC and Chicago. A straight line. They’re doing it so they can sell time, specifically milliseconds. And they have many buyers.

There’s some that say the financial market is gambling. Others who’d say if gambling is exciting, you’re doing it wrong. High Frequency traders believe the latter. All About High Frequency Trading is an excellent introduction of what’s involved with High Frequency Trading (HFT). The author, Michael Durbin, balances the line of over simplification and detail. His goal isn’t to be exhaustive. If he was a piano teacher this would be his Chopsticks. Someone else can worry about The Flight of Bumble Bee.

Durbin and HFTWhy do I care? I’m in the financial services industry. I have a business, ops, and technology background, I’m not a trader. The work described in these books was a learning opportunity. And despite the increased attention High Frequency Trading is still for an exclusive few. And that is why this is so interesting, the whole model for market trading has changed in the course of ten years. And we can probably fit all the experts on a single jumbo jet.

Level Set: We typically think of financial markets as a place where you go to buy stocks and bonds and hold onto them for some period. Sometime ago, maybe the ’80s, we started to hear about people called day traders. The name itself conjures a sort of comparison to stunt men and crocodile keepers. It just seems risky. And in the 30 years since the day trader evolved. Their strategies did too. To help explain Durbin creates four archetypes. Together they make the market more efficient and competitive. They are:

  • The investor – This is the group most of us belong and consider the core of the financial market. Investors typically buy and sell based on their portfolio and longer timescales. Often times they want dividend payments and other forms of compensation for owning the security.
  • The Market-Maker – This group is present in the market to buy and sell. It’s said they are in the moving business, not storage. They work on a shorter timescale than the investor and they are compensated by making the spread i.e. buying low and selling high. The key to both of these books is the number of Market-Makers. As they compete they look for advantages, whether its speed, information, or payment models.
  • The Arbitrageur – This group works to keep pricing in equilibrium. They are compensated by buying at one exchange and selling at another. They do this by identifying a point in time when there is a price discrepancy and racing to capitalize. By doing this they create supply and demand across exchanges to move the prices back to equilibrium.
  • The Predictor – This group uses statistics and history to predict where prices are headed. They’ll analyze a security and find when it’s outside an expected price range. Statistical arbitrage. They are compensated by finding these differences and make money when the security moves back into alignment with the Predictor’s expectations for price.

Why High Frequency Trading? To be profitable in this space you have to be good at creating a feedback loop where you are constantly sampling markets and movements looking for patterns and trends. Rapidly learning. The pace of learning is astonishing. Smart firms identify a pattern or trend and create a strategy with it, test it, and see if it’s a candidate for use. If yes, they put it in with the rest of their strategies. Now they constantly assess. Markets change and usefulness does too. New patterns emerge and old ones die out. Each has it’s own survival of the fittest lifespan, a lifespan which could be a matter of seconds.

Durbin does a good job of describing a general architecture for a HFT system. It is:

  • Thinkers – Take direction from humans and convert it into instructions for other components.
  • Listeners – They sit as close as possible to the market data feed  and take in market data to share with the other components. They are fast.
  • Pricer – Constantly, in real time, calculating the price of all the securities. They consider both alpha (the risk adjusted return beyond general market performance) and security inventory (what they own).
  • Traders – Connected straight to the exchanges to submit orders and quotes.
  • Managers – Control the work of the other components. They monitor inventories and can act when high risk events occur.

This is their structure:

HFT Drawing

So how did we get here? Everyone has the image of guys on the floor of the NYSE yelling out numbers like “$64 bid for 500″ or “500 offered at $10.50.” It seems like pure chaos and to the outsider it is. However, these brokers do this day in and day out so they know who buys, who sells, and how to settle up.

But over the course of the early 2000s a couple of things changed. The first was subtle and it was the cost of computing got very cheap. The internet boom in the 90s went bust and all kinds of capacity was now looking for a use. Hardware, software, and networking was advancing at the speed of light and costs were so low.

The second change was the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enacting a well intentioned regulation call National Market System aka Reg NMS. Reg NMS was put into law to ensure prices were always transparent. Price transparency helps markets to work more efficiently. To make this happen Reg NMS created the NBBO, the National Best Bid and Offer. This is what is published and brokers must guarantee this price, typically the midpoint between the bid and offer to their customers. What’s good about this idea is the average investor can establish an expectation about what they’re getting. It opens up trading to a larger pool of potential investors. The downside is speed. The NBBO is updated throughout the day from different exchanges and data feeds. Speed is where High Frequency Traders make their hey.

Based on these two changes the Market-Maker, Arbitrageur, and Predictor found opportunities. They use computing speed and fine tuned strategies to take advantage of information gaps and the rules for trading to make their profits. Durbin does an excellent job laying out the strategies. I particularly like pairs trading and tow the iceberg, but recommend everyone turn to page 49 and learn about the different strategies employed by the Investor, Market-Maker, Arbitrageur, and the Predictor. Below is a starter list described in the book:

Strategies

Changing gears. Lets focus more on the narrative telling Michael Lewis employs with Flash Boys.

Flash Boys is Lewis’s version of Stephen King’s horror novel It. Both deal with memories of how things were, trauma, and what’s lurking behind the facade. Also like It, there is a shape shifter. It isn’t a clown, it’s the algorithm.

Flash Boys can be read in a matter of days. That is the joy of Michael Lewis, real clean and crisp writing. It flows from word to word and page to page (and the font is big, who doesn’t love big font?).

The book rises and falls on two men, one is featured more than the other, but both show the value of what’s at stake with a change from trading on the floor to trading in the boxes. The two men are Sergey Aleynikov and Brad Katsuyama.

Sergey
Aleynikov

Aleynikov, a russian immigrant, has since 2009 been the subject of arrests, trials, and legal proceedings which anyone from the general public would after hearing the reason would say “huh?”

Katsuyama
Katsuyama

Katsuyama, a Canadian citizen, on the other hand has acted as a detective of sorts for RBC and discovered an opaque world of trading. He reacted to what he found by offering an alternative trading approach and technology. What should have been a slam dunk turned out to be a luke warm reception. He realized the interests and motivations of the different players weren’t always aligned. As discussed above, the Market-Maker is in the market to make money from buying low and selling high. These players bring liquidity to the market (making spreads closer) but to do so they benefit by using speed to profit from incongruities in information. Also discussed above.

The irony Lewis highlights, the reason Aleynikov was jailed, is because he stood accused of taking computer code, code that Goldman Sach’s claims in the wrong hands could be used to “manipulate markets in unfair ways.” Raising the question, if the code, the algorithm, is that powerful, why is it any better in the hands of Goldman Sachs?

Back to speed. Lewis early on in Flash Boys writes about Spread Networks. This is a company which spent millions of dollars creating the shortest pass possible between Chicago and NY. They did this to cut the time it takes for data to travel between these cities by 13 milliseconds. To keep supply low, those that want speed are willing to pay millions of dollars for it. These fractions of a second are very valuable.Chicago to New York

Now when you combine speed with algorithms you can exploit the market. On page 171 of the hard cover of Flash Boys Lewis tells the story of the Puzzle Masters. This is a team Katsuyama built to figure out the algorithms the High Frequency Traders were using. The goal of the group is reverse engineer the logic so they could foil it. What they found was exactly the strategies Durbin explains in greater detail in All About High Frequency Trading. The three Lewis writes about are:

  • electronic front running – learn who is buying and selling, race to acquire the position, and act as a middle man making a little profit as the go between.
  • rebate arbitrage – because of the fragmentation of exchanges there are rebates and kickbacks incenting traders to bring their business to one place or another. The High Frequency Trader may trade even all day, but make their money on rebates. This is the way an exchange may pay for liquidity.
  • slow market arbitrage – with the advent of so many exchanges the prices they list do not stay synchronized. Price discovery is something High Frequency Traders can do very efficiently, so they act as the means to make sure exchanges stay in price equilibrium, making a profit on these small variances along the way.

To adjust to these strategies Lewis describes the rise of dark pools. Dark pools are set up typically by brokers or banks to allow their clients to trade without transparency. Because there are different players in the markets some have big blocks of stock. When they want to trade, move in and out of a position, due to the size of the move the price can be negatively influenced. Lots of supply and no new demand. Suppose I know a big pension management company wants to buy a million shares of Coca-Cola. If I’m fast I can go out and buy the million shares first and then sell them to the institution for more than I paid, making a profit on the knowledge. So dark pools allow the institutions to avoid this scenario and not tip their hand (artificially raising the price).

Katsuyama takes all his learnings and creates IEX – a dark pool built to negate particularly types of exploits. Market-Makers can provide liquidity on this exchange but speed will only help so much. And to cater to their customer IEX only allows certain order types. They are market, limit, midpoint peg and IEX Check (a type of fill or kill order).

The irony in the book is their success was largely due to Goldman Sachs the same firm prosecuting for stolen High Frequency Trading code.

38 Miles of Fiber
38 Miles of Fiber

I’ll end this review with an excerpt from Lewis. It typifies his opinion of a broken financial market. I don’t agree. The market does have vultures, scavengers, and foragers. And there may be more of them than you’d expect. But it’s important to remember why you’re there and who you are, an investor.

           The arguments against the high-frequency traders hadn’t spread nearly so quickly – at any rate, Brad didn’t hear them from the SEC. A distinction cried out to be made, between “trading activity” and “liquidity.” A new trader could leap into a market and trade frantically inside it without adding anything of value to it. Imagine, for instance, that someone pass a rule, in the U.S. stock market as it is currently configured, that required every stock market trade to be front-run by a firm called Scalpers Inc. Under this rule, each time you went to buy 1,000 shares of Microsoft, Scalpers Inc. would be informed, whereupon it would set off to buy 1,000 shares of Microsoft offered in the market and, without taking any risk of owning the stock for even an instant, sell it to you at a higher price. Scalpers Inc. is prohibited from taking the slightest market risk; when it buys, it has the seller firmly in hand; when it sells, it has a buyer in hand; and at the end of every trading day, it will have no position at all in the stock market. Scalpers Inc. trades for the sole purpose of interfering with trading that would have happened without it. In buying from every seller and selling to every buyer, it winds up: a) doubling the trades in the marketplace and b) being exactly 50 percent of that booming volume. It adds nothing to the market but at the same time might be mistaken for the central player in that market.

            This state of affairs, as it happens, resembles the United States stock market after the passage of Reg NMS. From 2006 to 2008, high-frequency traders share of total U.S. stock market trading doubled, from 26 percent to 52 percent – and it had never fallen below 50 percent since then. The total number of trades made in the stock market also spiked dramatically, from roughly 10 million per day in 2006 to just over 20 million per day in 2009.

Spotting Innovative Talent – External and Internal to Your Company

The job market is a lagging indicator for the economy. And over the last several months, readings from each of the different national surveys have been positive. To accompany those reports is an underlying uptick in stories about how to hire innovative personnel. These individuals will always command a market for their skills, so its especially important to have a plan for this talent. Here are a couple articles I found valuable.

————————

Geil Browning

Inc.com ran an article titled How to Spot Innovative Hires by Geil Browning. In it she has a few recommendations:

In resumes: Look for “I enjoy developing solutions that are fresh and new,” “I’m an idea person,” or “I’m a visionary.” She also suggests that you don’t be scared off by stops in different industries.

In the interview: Observe who the person is making connections in their mind. When explaining a point or telling a story they seem to go off on a tangent, be OK with that. They are most likely connecting the dots in their minds – creating associations. They’ll also pepper the conversation with terms like brainstorming, big picture, global, vision, hunch, oneness, synchronicity, and cutting edge.

Here are a few blurbs from the piece regarding Interview questions to ask:

If you were to assemble a piece of furniture from the directions, how would you go about it?
I love this question because each thinking type answers it so differently. Someone whose thinking is very innovative will often say, “I look at the picture on the box, dump the pieces in a pile on the floor, and then begin. When the project is complete, I use the directions to start a fire.”

When a deadline is a month away, how do you finish a project—and when?
An innovative thinker will say something like, “First, I search the Internet for ideas. Then I’ll take a walk or ponder until a solution makes itself known. This may happen immediately or it may happen three days before the deadline, but when the solution surfaces, it will come all at once—and it will come.”

What would you do if you showed up ten minutes early for a meeting?
Does this individual talk about striking up a conversation with the nearest person, or quietly prepare for the meeting? Only you know which trait would offer an appropriate balance at your company.



———————–

Bill J. Bonnstetter & Ron J. Bonnstetter

The Harvard Business Review is providing some guidance about how to identify the people who in your organization are the entrepreneurs. In a blog post titled Who are Your Organization’s Entrepreneurs? Bill J. Bonnstetter and Ron J. Bonnstetter label the problem solvers within the company as Entrepreneurial-Minded People (EMPs) and Serial Entrepreneurs (SEs). The risk they see is in the likeliness of an entrepreneur leaving the team. An interesting stat is that 42% of of entrepreneurs have determined they want to own their own business before the age of 12, so companies are facing tough odds.

Entrepreneurial-Minded People (EMPs): They tend to work well in teams, have an organized workplace and enjoy consistency. These individuals are happier within organizations or within a group of people working together to achieve a goal.

Serial Entrepreneurs (SEs): The second group is made up of potential serial entrepreneurs who have a desire to own their own business. Serial entrepreneurs tend to be more individualistic, have a greater sense of urgency and a desire to control. They have demonstrated an ability to sustain a business past the first year, into the higher growth job production years of a young firm.

But how do managers identify entrepreneurial types? It’s often helpful to put these questions to use, especially during the hiring process or a performance review.

  1. Describe your career goals. The EMP’s answer would more likely indicate he could care less about being in management and is happy where he is or where he is applying for. The SE will tend to say she is looking for advancement.
  2. Describe your professional strengths. An EMP will focus on strengths directly related to the job in question. An SE will talk more about leadership and personal identity.
  3. Describe things you’re not good at. Honesty is important for both. Listen closely: If she claims to not have any weaknesses, she is likely more SE-driven. The more weaknesses he confesses to having, the more EM-driven he is.
  4. What activities do you do to keep current in your profession? The EMP is interested in keeping up within his profession and industry. The SE is more focused on keeping up on broader scope, going beyond just her career and may discuss things she is reading, experiencing or sharing.

Entrepreneurs — whether EMPs or serial — already possess the behaviors, attitudes, and values to build successful businesses. Finding out whom within the workforce possesses the traits of an entrepreneur — and which type they are — will allow business leaders to work with their unique approach to business. Recruiting and retaining entrepreneurs will pay big dividends not just for individual companies, but also for the economy as a whole.

December 2011 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for December 2011 (based on the job report):
*

Net gain of 200,000 jobs in the month

- Analysts expected an overall gain of 150,000
– Private sector payrolls increased by 212,000
      – Private sector service providing industries added 164,000 jobs
      – Private sector goods producing industries gained 48,000 jobs
- November was revised from a gain of 100,000
– October was revised to a gain of 112,000 from a gain of 80,000 and a revision of 100,000
- For 2011 1.6 million jobs were added, 1.9 million private sector jobs
     – The number of jobs added in 2010 was 940,000
– The labor force in the US is currently 153,887 million, down from 153,937 from an amended November 2011
– The unemployed totaled 13.1 million, down from 13.3 million last month
– 5.6 million had have been jobless for six months or longer
– 42.5% of the unemployed are long term unemployed
– Payroll processing company ADP (a separate report) said private-sector payrolls grew by 325,000 jobs; the largest gain since December 2010.
      – Analysts thought it would be 180,000
      – According to ADP, small firms, with payrolls ranging from one to 49 employees and thought by many to be the engine of job growth, led the charge, adding 148,000 jobs (added 60,000 two months ago)
      – Again, according to ADP, medium-sized businesses, with payrolls between 50 and 499 employees, added 140,000 jobs in the month (added 36,000 two months ago), while the nation’s largest businesses added 37,000 jobs.
      – Of the 206,000 private sector-jobs added in the month, 28,000 of them came from the goods-producing sector and 178,000 jobs were added in the service providing industries
– The announced jobs cuts for December were 41,785
      – The number of announced cuts for the 12 months of the year is 606,082 , surpassing 2010 year end total (529,973) and 14% higher overall
     – There were 1,288,030 announced job cuts in 2009
*
Unemployment rate dropped to 8.5%
- Analysts predicted it would remain at 8.7%
- Lowest rate recorded since March 2009
- Dropped 0.6% since August 2011
- Its a combination of more workers getting jobs and about 315,000 workers dropped out of the labor force
– the civilian labor force participation rate was 64.0 percent, same as last month
- The employment-population ratio was 58.5 percent, same as last month
- The U-6 report, which is a broader group to count (workers who are part time but want to be full time and discouraged worker), dropped in line with the Unemployment rate to 15.2%, it was 16.6% in December 2010
- PMI, a measure of manufacturing pace, is 53.9% and the 29th consecutive month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the machines are running
- Service sector activity fell to 52.6%. It was the 25th straight month of growth and anything over 50% signifies growth

*

Specific Segment Job numbers:

– Manufacturing gained 23,000 jobs
– Construction gained 17,000 jobs
– Retailers gained 27,900 jobs
– Leisure and Hospitality Services gained 21,000 jobs
– Government sector lost 12,000: 14,000 loss in local government
– Education and Health Services gained 28,700
– Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 27,000
– Professional and Business Services grew by 12,000
– Temporary help lost 7,500

*

Wage (can be revised):

– The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $658.50
– The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.54, unchanged
– Average weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is 34.4

Bureau of Labor Statistics

November 2011 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for November 2011 (based on the job report):
*

Net gain of 120,000 jobs in the month

- Analysts expected an overall gain of 110,000
– Private sector payrolls increased by 140,000
      – Private sector service providing industries added 146,000 jobs
      – Private sector goods producing industries lost 6,000 jobs
- September was revised from a gain of 158,000 to to a gain of 210,000
– October was revised from a gain of 80,000 to a gain of 100,000
– Revisions added 72,000 jobs from the prior 2 month readings and the revisions have consistently been higher than original readings
– The labor force in the US is currently 153,883 million, down from 154,198 in October 2011
– The unemployed totaled 13.3 million, down from 14 million which was the number for most of year
– 5.7 million had have been jobless for six months or longer – relatively unchanged from October (since the recession began 8.8 million jobs were lost and less than a third have been recovered)
– 43.0% of the unemployed are long term unemployed
– Payroll processing company ADP said private-sector payrolls grew by 206,000
      – According to ADP, small firms, with payrolls ranging from one to 49 employees and thought by many to be the engine of job growth, led the charge, adding 110,000 jobs (added 60,000 two months ago)
      – Again, according to ADP, medium-sized businesses, with payrolls between 50 and 499 employees, added 84,000 jobs in the month (added 36,000 two months ago), while the nation’s largest businesses added 12,000 jobs.
      – Of the 206,000 private sector-jobs added in the month, 28,000 of them came from the goods-producing sector and 178,000 jobs were added in the service providing industries
      – The announced jobs cuts for November were 42,474
      – The number of announced cuts for the 11 months of the year is 564,297 , surpassing 2010 year end total and 13% higher overall
- In the first nine months of the year, about 17.3 million people left their jobs by choice
     – Up 9% from last year, when  just under 16 million people called it quits through September
*
Unemployment rate dropped to 8.6%
- Analysts predicted it would remain at 9.1%
- Lowest rate recorded since March 2009
- Its a combination of more workers getting jobs and about 315,000 workers dropped out of the labor force
– the civilian labor force participation rate was 64.0 percent
- The employment-population ratio was 58.5 percent, up slightly from 58.3 percent in September
- The U-6 report, which is a broader group to count (workers who are part time but want to be full time and discouraged worker), dropped in line with the Unemployment rate to 15.6%
- PMI, a measure of manufacturing pace, is 52.7% an increase from 50.8% and the 28th consecutive month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the machines are running
- Service sector activity fell to 52.0%. It was the 24th straight month of growth and anything over 50% signifies growth

*

Specific Segment Job numbers:

– Manufacturing gained 2,000 jobs
– Construction lost 12,000 jobs
– Retailers gained 49,800 jobs
– Leisure and Hospitality Services gained 22,000 jobs
– Government sector lost 20,000: 11,000 loss in local government
– Education and Health Services gained 45,000
– Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 27,000
– Professional and Business Services grew by 33,000
– Temporary help gained 22,300

*

Wage (can be revised):

– The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $656.54
– The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.54
– Average weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is 33.6

Bureau of Labor Statistics

October 2011 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for October 2011 (based on the job report):

Net gain of 80,000 jobs in the month (revised to a gain of 100,000)

- Analysts expected an overall gain of 98,000
– Private sector payrolls increased by 104,000
      – Private sector service providing industries added 114,000 jobs
      – Private sector goods producing industries lost 10,000 jobs
- September was revised from a gain of 103,000 to a gain of 158,000 (final revision to a gain of 210,000)
– August was revised from a gain of 57,000 to a gain of 104,000 (final)
– The labor force in the US is currently 154198 million
– The unemployed totaled 13.9 million, down from 14 million which was the number for most of year
– 5.9 million have been jobless for six months or longer, a drop of 366,000
– 42.4% of the unemployed are long term unemployed
– Payroll processing company ADP said private-sector payrolls grew by 110,000
      – According to ADP, small firms, with payrolls ranging from one to 49 employees and thought by many to be the engine of job growth, led the charge, adding 58,000 jobs
      – Again, according to ADP, medium-sized businesses, with payrolls between 50 and 499 employees, added 53,000 jobs in the month, while the nation’s largest businesses lost 1,000 jobs.
      – Of the 110,000 private sector-jobs added in the month, 114,000 of them came from the service-providing sector and a loss of 4,000 jobs in the goods producing industries
- The announced jobs cuts for November were 42,759
*
Unemployment rate dropped to 9.0%
- Analysts predicted it would remain at 9.1%
- the civilian labor force participation rate was 64.2 percent
- The employment-population ratio was 58.4 percent, up slightly from 58.3 percent in September
- The U-6 report, which is a broader group to count (workers who are part time but want to be full time and discouraged worker), dropped in line with the Unemployment rate to 16.2%
- PMI, a measure of manufacturing pace, is 50.8%, the 27th consecutive month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the machines are running
- Service sector activity fell to 52.9%. It was the 23th straight month of growth and anything over 50% signifies growth
*
Specific Segment Job numbers:

– Manufacturing gained 5,000 jobs
– Construction lost 20,000 jobs
– Retailers gained 17,800 jobs
– Leisure and Hospitality Services gained 22,000 jobs
– Government sector lost 24,000: 20,000 loss in state government
– Education and Health Services gained 28,000
– Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 16,300
– Professional and Business Services grew by 32,000
– Temporary help gained 15,000

Wage (can be revised):

– The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $658.16
– The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.53
– Average weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is 33.7

Bureau of Labor Statistics

September 2011 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for September 2011 (based on the job report):
Net gain of 103,000 jobs in the month (final revision to a gain of 210,000 jobs)
- Analysts expected an overall gain of 65,000
– Private sector payrolls increased by 137,000
      – Private sector service providing industries added 119,000 jobs
      – Private sector goods producing industries added 18,000 jobs
      – 45,000 of the 137,000 jobs were counted but reflect the end of the Verizon Wireless worker strike
– August was revised to gain of 57,000 from an original reading of zero jobs added/lost
– July was revised to a gain of 127,000 from an original reading of 85,000
– Revisions added 99,000 jobs from prior readings
– The labor force in the US is currently 154,017 million, up slightly from August 2011
– The unemployed totaled 14 million in September and it has remained flat for several months
– 6.2 million had have been jobless for six months or longer – relatively unchanged from the prior month
– 44.6% of the unemployed are long term unemployed; up 0.2% from last month
– Payroll processing company ADP said private-sector payrolls grew by 91,000
      – According to ADP, small firms, with payrolls ranging from one to 49 employees and thought by many to be the engine of job growth, led the charge, adding 60,000 jobs
      – Again, according to ADP, medium-sized businesses, with payrolls between 50 and 499 employees, added 36,000 jobs in the month, while the nation’s largest businesses shed 5,000 jobs.
      – Of the 91,000 private sector-jobs added in the month, only 1,000 of them came from the goods-producing sector.
      – The announced jobs cuts more than doubled from August to September with a rise from 51,114 in August to 115,730 in September
      – This is the highest number since September 2009 when 132,590 cuts were announced
– Employers have now announced a total of 479,064 planned job cuts so far this year — up 16.5% from 411,272 cuts at the same time in 2010
      – About 80,000 of the cuts, or nearly 70% of last month’s total, came from just two organizations: Bank of America and the United States Army

 

Unemployment rate remained at 9.1%

 

- Analysts predicted it would remain at 9.1%
– the civilian labor force participation rate was 64.2 percent- little changed
- The employment-population ratio was 58.3 percent – little changed
- The U-6 report, which is a broader group to count (workers who are part time but want to be full time and discouraged worker), rose significantly to 16.5%
- Overall consumer prices were up 3.8% over the past year
- PMI, a measure of manufacturing pace, is 51.6% a drop from 55.3% and the 26th consecutive month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the machines are running
- Service sector activity fell to 53.0%. It was the 22th straight month of growth and anything over 50% signifies growth

 

Specific Segment Job numbers:

 

- Manufacturing lost 13,000 jobs
– Construction gained 26,000 jobs
– Retailers gained 13,600 jobs
– Leisure and Hospitality Services lost 4,000 jobs
– Government sector lost 34,000: a 35,000 loss in local government alone
– Education and Health Services gained 45,000
– Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 40,800
– Professional and Business Services grew by 48,000
– Temporary help gained 19,400

Wage (can be revised):

- The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $655.87, an increase of $2.69
– The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.52
– Average weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is 33.5, a slight dip from 33.6 last month

Bureau of Labor Statistics

August 2011 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for August 2011 (based on the job report):

No change in the month (revised to a gain of 57,000 jobs, also close to the original estimate)

  • Analysts expected a median gain of 60,000 jobs or about half of July’s total
  • Private sector payrolls increased by 17,000
  • —Private sector goods producing lost 3,000 jobs
  • —Private sector service providing gained 20,000 jobs
  • June was revised from a gain of 46,000 to a gain of 20,000
  • July was revised from a gain of 117,000 to a gain of 85,000
  • Payroll processing company ADP said private-sector payrolls grew by 91,000 in August (revised to a gain of 89,000)
  • Employers announced plans to cut 51,114  jobs in August
  • There are 14 million unemployed people
  • —6.0 million of them are long term unemployed (27 weeks or longer without a job)
  • 42.9% of the unemployed are long term unemployed
  • The labor force is 153.6 million people
  • 3.1 million job openings on the last business day of August
  • The hires rate was 3.1 percent and separations rate  was 3.0 percent, essentially unchanged over the month

 

Unemployment rate stayed at 9.1%

  • Analysts predicted it would remain 9.1%
  • The labor force participation rate is 64
  • employment to population ratio is 58.2%, slight drop from 58.2%
  • The U-6 report, which is a broader group to count (workers who are part time but want to be full time and discouraged worker) rose to 16.2%
  • PMI, a measure of manufacturing pace, is 50.6% and the 25th consecutive month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the machines are running
  • Service sector activity was 53.3%. It was the 22th straight month of growth and anything over 50% signifies growth

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing lost 3,000 jobs
  • Construction lost 5,000 jobs
  • Retailers lost 7,800 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services gained 2,000 jobs
  • Government sector lost 17,000: 20,000 loss was in local government
  • Education and Health Services gained 34,000
  • —Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 35,500
  • Professional and Business Services grew by 28,000

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $652.25, an decrease of $2.61
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.47
  • Average weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is 33.5 hours, the first change in 5 months

Bureau of Labor Statistics

July 2011 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for July 2011 (based on the job report):

Net gain of 117,000 jobs in the month

  • Analysts expected an overall gain of 75,000
  • Private sector payrolls increased by 154,000; it was revised to a gain of 80,000 in June
  • Private sector service providing industries added 112,000 jobs
  • Private sector goods producing industries added 42,000 jobs
  • May was revised to gain of 53,000 from a revision of 25,000 from an original reading of 54,000
  • June was revised to a gain of 46,000 from an original reading of 18,000
  • Revisions added 51,000 jobs this month, whereas they subtracted 56,000 jobs last month
  • The labor force in the US is currently 153.2 million and didn’t change in July
  • About 13.9 million people were out of work in July
  • 6.2 million had have been jobless for six months or longer
  • 44.4% of the unemployed are long term unemployed
  • Payroll processing company ADP said private-sector payrolls grew by 114,000 in July, down from 145,000 in June
  • Employers announced plans to cut 66,414 jobs in July. Up significantly (60% rise) from 41,432 cuts in June and up from 37,135 jobs in May 2011
  • The 16 to 24 year old demographic has had a historically bad summer with only 48.8% of them finding a job
  • The Labor Participation rate of 16-24 year-olds for July, was 59.5% – the lowest on record (labor participation rate counts the people in jobs and those looking for jobs). This type of metric shows a group of people who are starting their financial and work lives later than previous generations
  • 31 states (including DC) saw an improvement in jobs gained and 19 saw an erosion of jobs

Unemployment rate dropped to 9.1%

  • Analysts predicted it would remain at 9.2%
  • The labor force participation rate is 63.9 from 64.1% (66.5% is average to good)
  • The employment to population ratio is 58.1%, slight drop from 58.2%
  • The U-6 report, which is a broader group to count (workers who are part time but want to be full time and discouraged worker), dropped in parallel to the overall report to 16.1% from 16.2%
  • PMI, a measure of manufacturing pace, is 50.9% a drop from 55.3% and the 24th consecutive month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the machines are running.
  • The analysts expected 54.5%
  • April’s reading was 60.4% so the manufacturing expansion has slowed considerably and could mean slow growth in Q3 of 2011
  • Service sector activity fell to 52.7% from 53.3%. It was the 20th straight month of growth and anything over 50% signifies growth
  • Productivity was anemic in the second quarter, growing at 0.3% and the first quarter was revised to a loss of 0.6%. This implies that business needs to hire
  • Non-financial US companies have $837 Billion in cash on their books

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing gained 24,000 jobs
  • Construction gained 8,000 jobs
  • Retailers gained 25,900 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services gained 17,000 jobs
  • Government sector lost 37,000: 23,000 loss was in local government
  • Education and Health Services gained 38,000
  • Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 36,700
  • Professional and Business Services grew by 34,000

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $655.87, an increase of $2.69
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.41
  • Average weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is 33.6 hours, no change for last four months

Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Advantage of Change

Change is inevitable. Sometimes its having a bagel instead of yogurt and you don’t really notice. Other times it feels like a sky diver looking back up at the plane. You’re frightened, but you’re committed. Life moves on.

I’ve recently left a job, the one I’ve had for eleven years. It wasn’t easy to leave. The work and the people suited me well. I’ll miss many of the day-to-day relationships and what we accomplished. For the longest time the formula worked, until it didn’t. It could have continued but I needed change.

The NFL is gearing up for the season. Free agency, which is normally a four month process, is compacted into a few days. Players without contracts are free to shop their skills to teams that need it and many factors go into a deal. For instance, the Philadelphia Eagles have signed several potential superstars. They are cautiously optimistic and nothing is guaranteed – winning depends on the right formula of teammates and strategy.

I’ve commented on the notion of superstars in the workplace before. They do exist but it’s usually a function of the team, the formula. Things need to come together just right for success to take hold. The people who comprise the team need to understand their role and how they fit together.  This isn’t easy because we are a dynamic species and often have more than one thing we are good at. And this can create confusion about how to maximize the contributions of the people on the team. Perhaps I’m the most productive at more than one task, but I can only be in one place at a time. Where do I spend my time? If it doesn’t get sorted out, mediocrity is the best case scenario and sometimes disaster ensues.

What needs to be found is Comparative Advantage. An article in Fortune called The Start Up Law of Comparative Advantage by Jeff Bussgang was timely and it highlights the strengths of the founder of a start up and how he must dedicate time to product and people. From there the founder should spend their time maximizing what they contribute, not doing all the jobs.

This isn’t easy. Its a combination of trusting others and knowing you can never go back. Once you’ve decided you need to commit. You want things to go slow so you can figure out the formula. Figure out how to make it perfect forever. But gravity only has one speed and once you jumped you can’t get back on the plane.

Reflecting on a Job Market – Employee and Employer

To gain significant wealth in the US you have to take significant risk. Usually that means starting your own business or being on the ground floor with someone who is. The individuals who put their neck on the line deserve the spoils of that risk. The last three years proves the fittest survives in business.

We can somewhat reflect now. The once in a generation economy is behind us, so it’s time to see what the new world looks like. It’s lean and flexible. But a chasm is growing between the employer and the employees. Here are some stats from a Mercer survey I read about by Ben Rooney on CNNMoney called  Half of Workers Unhappy in their Jobs:

  • 32% of US workers are seriously considering leaving their job. Up from 23% in 2005.
  • Of the age group 25-34, 40% are seriously considering leaving. Within that number is 44% of employees who are 24 and younger. The cheap labor is ready to bolt.
  • And more alarming, 56% of senior managers are considering leaving. This compares to 34% of managers and 30% of non-managers. The experienced are also looking to jump to other opportunities.
  • A slightly different take, but 21% have disengaged from their employer, meaning they are not looking for a new job, but they are apathetic toward their current one. This could be burn out and it could mean the productivity gains via personnel has reached it’s limit.

Workers are getting disenfranchised by the circumstances of their employment. In addition to that, there are business owners who have moved away from the proper perspective. They’ve had leverage for over three years. Chances are they laid off some people. Those that remain should have a debt of gratitude. It could be worse.

The business owner who has survived is entitled to some fun, but they need to realize no one does it alone. I was out to dinner with a friend in the industrial fabrication and installation field of work. He had an exchange with his boss similar to the one in the movie below. I embellished it for effect, but much of this exchange is true, particularly the part about the water skis

A Resignation Story
by: Ben Leeson