Jobs Report Inspires Optimism in Mesirow Financial’s Diane Swonk

SUSIE GHARIB: Well, our next guest says she is encouraged and hopeful about
today’s job news. She’s Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial.

DIANE SWONK, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MESIROW FINANCIAL: I do think there was
hope in this report that has been really missing from other reports, and
that was there was an increase in the number of people throwing their hat
in the ring, looking for a job.

We also saw some people that were more willing to quit a job. You
don’t quit a job unless you’re going to get a job in this economy. So,
again, some signs of hope.

GHARIB: So, Diane, though, is this job growth a trend? Can this
employment growth be sustained?

SWONK: Not at this pace, but I think what we are going to see is more
of a moderation as we go into the year. There are some special factors
that helped. We really had unseasonable weather since October, so that
helped us out. The good news is, it’s there. The good news is, there’s something
turning and it’s better than it was. We have to remember our threshold,
though, was pretty low.

GHARIB: You know, I was talking to the head of a very big executive
recruiting firm and he was saying CEOs just aren’t hiring, they’re getting
by with less to do more. Is there anything that we can do to encourage
companies to hire more?

SWONK: Well, the Fed is trying to make it so repulsive to hold cash
that we make better investments in our future, which includes more labor
force and more investments in our long-term sustainability or future,
invest in our future. That’s not occurring right now, but that’s what the Fed is trying to
get us to do. That’s one thing that’s happening. And we also saw today
the trade data was not as good and it’s because the rest of the world is
slowing, particularly emerging markets and the periphery of Europe.

And so, you know, these are the things that CEOs worry about.

GHARIB: We do continue to see encouraging numbers on the economy. Is the economy really getting better?

SWONK: It is really getting better. It’s just getting better from such a low. We had such a big, deep hole to crawl out of and we’re still crawling out of that hole. And I think that’s the hard thing. And we’re not going to see the kind of getting better that everybody and lifts all tides until housing market really comes back. And that’s still going to struggle this year.

GHARIB: How would you describe the shape of the economy right now?

SWONK: Encouraging. I’m not overly optimistic, but I’m encouraged
because it has been a long, hard, slog. I think the recovery is becoming
more sustainable. There are still a lot of headwinds and potholes in the
road ahead, but we look better able to go through those potholes and brace
ourselves through them than we were just a year ago.

That said, we have had a lot of false starts, and we can’t
underestimate the headwinds we still face.

GHARIB: Let’s talk about some of the issues that are facing the
economy. Oil prices went up today. Do you think that higher gasoline and
oil prices could stall the economy?

SWONK: Absolutely. That’s the greatest single threat going forward.
We had it buffered because it was unseasonably warmed. People paid lower
energy bills. That buffer plays out as we move into spring and all of a
sudden we’re hit with higher energy prices at the pump and that can crimp
consumer spending.

We also have — that’s mostly related to political risk, the political
uncertainty abroad. All that we face today is political uncertainty. And
it’s not unsubstantial.

GHARIB: As you know, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said last week that
the job market is far from normal. What kind of moves do you expect from
the Fed when they meet next week?

SWONK: I think it’s going to be steady as it goes. Because right
now, you know, the labor market is improving a bit, so they can take from
that. It’s not enough, but it’s not enough to trigger them to move or do
anything. Frankly, they’ve done enough recently. I don’t think they want
to make any noise right now.

GHARIB: OK. Diane, thank you so much for your time. Great talk
talking to you.

SWONK: Thanks.


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