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Demystifying Turkish Unemployment

Last Monday’s unemployment data caused a difference of opinion among analysts, with your friendly neighborhood economist taking the data with caution and almost everyone else rejoicing over the figures. Some even claimed that PM Erdoğan, who had ruled that unemployment would fall to 10 percent several months ago, would be proven right as early as next month.

To recap, unemployment and non-farm unemployment came in at 11 and 13.8 percent respectively in May. While these numbers look impressive on a year-on-year basis, most of the improvement is due to the weak base from last year. In fact, seasonal numbers look less impressive, as seasonally adjusted unemployment remained unchanged from the previous month and seasonally adjusted non-farm unemployment even registered a small decrease.

Overall, the figures show that the improvement in labor market conditions is coming to a halt. They are also consistent with the slowdown in leading indicators in May: Purchasing Managers Index, capacity utilization and real and consumer confidence had all stalled in the same month, hinting that Europe’s woes had somewhat spilled over into Turkey.

As for the future, I am confident that if the PM is proven right, it will not be in the June data. In fact, unemployment has usually increased from May to June in the past. Last year was a big exception, but even then headline and non-farm unemployment both fell 0.6 percent only.

unemployment_change_may_to_june_100822.png

On the contrary, the monthly KONDA surveys I have been working on regularly show unemployment picking up over the summer. KONDA numbers are naturally different from the official figures, but they have so far done an excellent job in predicting the direction of unemployment. And while consistent with seasonal trends, the stronger-than-expected increases over the summer, if realized, would mean that firms might have gone on a hiring spree in the second quarter due to optimistic domestic and global economic conditions.

Looking further ahead, in line with the recent improvement in leading indicators and the improvement in Europe, it is possible for seasonally adjusted unemployment to continue its downward creep. However, taking into consideration seasonal patterns, it is quite unlikely that the headline figure will touch the PM’s 10 percent target this year. But more important than a single number are the implications of this data on growth and monetary policy.

Forecasting has been tough of late due to the recent mixed data. For example, while leading indicators still look healthy, industrial production, usually a good predictor of growth, did decline 2.1 percent month-on-month in June. But existing data do not rule out an almost-double-digit yearly growth in the second quarter. Beyond that is anyone’s guess for now.

As for monetary policy implications, unemployment data are supportive of the Central Bank’s hold-for-longer strategy, and other statistics are far from indicating the economy is overheating as well. Therefore, it is unlikely that the bank will start raising rates before well into next year, even without taking into consideration the politics of starting a hiking cycle before the elections.

One complication that has escaped many analysts is that Turkish non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment, or NAIRU, might have moved as a result of the crisis. My back-of-the-envelope calculations hint to a seasonally adjusted NAIRU of around 11 percent. As seasonally adjusted unemployment is already at 12 percent, the bank may not have as much leeway as previously imagined.

Even if you see the 10 percent debate as a pissing contest, unemployment still needs to be tracked carefully despite being a lagging indicator released more than two months late.


Originally published at the Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review and reproduced here with the author’s permission.

One Response to “Demystifying Turkish Unemployment”

MaryAugust 29th, 2010 at 11:11 am

Hi Emre,As usual, I liked your post and I agree that people should be focusing on the unchanged seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate number, rather than celebrating the fall in the unadjusted unemployment figure.Moreover, I agree with your point that leading indicators – PMI, capacity utilization, and consumer and real sector confidence all point to Turkey losing growth momentum. The sky-high (y/y) growth rate of Q1, as we’ve both noted, was due almost entirely to base effects. Q2 GDP is also likely to show a strong print, but I think Turkey will then settle into a ‘new normal’ pattern.Rather than attributing the ‘stalling’ in PMI and confidence indices to spillover from Europe (although that’s certainly a factor), I think the stall is due to greater uncertainty about global growth in general. More specifically, the temporary factors driving advanced economies’ growth are set to wane – eg. the fading of positive inventory effects as well as advanced economies battling it out for the title of biggest fiscal paragon of them all and the resulting global effects.