United States: productivity rate at its fastest since 2010

Chart of the week

Hourly productivity in the US non-farm business sector rose 2.4% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2019. Between end-2011 and end-2016, it grew on average by 0.7%. In 2017 and 2018, the rate increased to approximately 1.3% per year. So, will this sharp rise break the trendline?

OUR ANALYSIS

Productivity growth is notoriously difficult to forecast over the short term and the recent strong reading could well be an outlier. Some of the rise is due to a sharply lower denominator (a fall in the number of hours worked). Indeed, other sources suggest a higher figure.

Whatever the case, a pick-up in productivity helps to explain why tighter labour market conditions have not yet translated into faster inflation. Year-on-year unit labour costs, which take productivity levels into account, are only rising at 0.1%, their lowest since 2013. This may explain why corporate profits remain buoyant.

If this pick-up in productivity is confirmed in the quarters ahead, it is good news for the US economy and should enable the current expansion to continue.

 

The opinion expressed above is dated May 9, 2019, and liable to change.

This document is not pre-contractual or contractual in nature. It is provided for information purposes. The analyses and descriptions contained in this document shall not be interpreted as being advice or recommendations on the part of Lazard Frères Gestion SAS. This document does not constitute an offer or invitation to purchase or sell, nor an encouragement to invest. This document is the intellectual property of Lazard Frères Gestion SAS.


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Julien-Pierre Nouen

Directeur des études économiques et de la gestion diversifiée