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Withholding Tax Collections Collapsed in August But BLS Data Won’t Show It

Federal withholding tax collections declined in August. This was the second consecutive monthly decline after rising sharply and persistently throughout June.

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Collections steadily declined throughout the month. This is consistent with the usual 3 month pulse of the US economy, where it accelerates for the first 6-7 weeks, then slows for the second part of the period. However, the current slowdown started earlier than usual and has therefore had a longer downstroke. That downstroke is due to end now. Non-subscribers, click here for access.

Despite the slowdown, revenue growth year to year remains positive, thanks to employee earnings inflation.  From the perspective of the markets, only nominal revenue matters, not the real economic growth rate. Because revenue is a key determinant of Treasury supply. Non-subscribers, click here for access.

Nominal withholding grew xx% year over year. That would be great except that it’s a big drop from the +11.3% at the end of July. Non-subscribers, click here for access.

It suggests a rapid slowing in the US economy. But it’s only slightly weaker than the xx% gain 3 months earlier, at the end of May. As JP Morgan said, markets will fluctuate. Well, guess what! So does US economic activity. Non-subscribers, click here for access.

So is the US economy decelerating or not? With wage inflation reportedly hovering around 5-5.5%, the xx% gain in withholding tax suggests that jobs growth has xxxx xxxx xxxxx. However, this should be the trough of the normal 3 month cycle, and it is no lower than the last two troughs. While the short term cyclical breather phase is a bit more extended than usual, there’s been no breakdown from the range of the past 6 months. The economy is xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx, not xxxxxxxxxxxx. Non-subscribers, click here for access.

Of course we never know what the BLS jobs release will show. Instead of reflecting the data collection date of the 12th of the month just completed, I’ve gotten the impression in recent months that it relates more closely to where things stood at the end of the previous month. So it’s possible that the BLS imaginary number for August will reasonably strong positive growth, reflective of July tax collections, even though we know from the tax data that the jobs market began to collapse in the second half of July and continued through August. Non-subscribers, click here for access.

The monthly average has a little over two weeks of built in lag. The 5 day average of collections is whippier, but gives us a picture of weekly action in near real time. That rolling 5 day average held above the June low, but edged slightly below the February lows twice during the month. These were not material breaks. Non-subscribers, click here for access.

On the other hand, you can see in the above chart that the trend of the 11 day total collections, which is the whippiest of all, but still subject to trends, has been xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xx xxxxxxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx  the February-June lows. Non-subscribers, click here for access.

8/3/22 If Friday’s BLS jobs report bears any semblance of reality, the number shouldn’t differ much from the growth rate in June. But given the timing of the data collection as of July 12, and the various “adjustments” that the BLS applies to their survey data, we really never know what the first release for the month will show. They then fit their data to actual data over 7 subsequent monthly revisions and annual benchmark revisions. The first release is garbage, and hit or miss as to whether it reflects reality.

The fact of the tax data shows that so far, the much feared recession isn’t here yet.

So here we are Friday morning, a few hours before the BLS jobs data release, and as usual, I can’t predict what the BLS’s fictional artistic impression of the August jobs market will look like. The fact is that it was weak and getting weaker throughout the month. But if the number is more reflective of July, that weakness won’t show up until next month. When it does show up, whether this morning or next month, the bond market and stock market will get a short lived boost from those who expect that it will mean that the Fed will soon loosen policy. Non-subscribers, click here for access.

But the fact is that if tax revenues are weakening, Treasury supply will only increase, regardless of what Wall Street says about the economy. Treasury supply will increase due to weaker tax revenue just as the Fed requires the Treasury to add $60 billion a month in new debt sales to the public to pay off the Fed. Non-subscribers, click here for access.

In addition to that extra supply from Quantitative Tightening, and a weaker economy, Fed QT also causes demand to weaken. Not only is the Fed no longer the primary buyer and financing agent in the market, but it is also choking demand by removing the cash from the banking system that would otherwise be available to fund Treasury purchases. Non-subscribers, click here for access.

The bottom line is that the weaker tax revenues are not bullish. The accompanying weaker economic data will be spun as bullish, while in fact it will not be. At least at first. It will only be bullish when xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx. All I can say is, “Wait for it!” I’ll give you a heads up, right here. Non-subscribers, click here for access.

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Posted in 1 - Liquidity Trader- Money Trends, Fed, Central Bank and Banking Macro Liquidity
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