A Surprising – And Ominous? — Boom

There has been much talk about the death of bricks-and-mortar retail, which traditionally hires hundreds of thousands of temporary workers in November and December for the Christmas rush. With more and more business being conducted online, it stood to reason that general merchandise stores — the Macy’s and Targets of the world — would be needing fewer temps.

It didn’t happen, at least according to the Labor Department’s preliminary numbers, released last Friday. Instead, the figures looked like there was a retail boom — albeit one that could be ending.

General merchandise stores added 277,300 actual jobs in November and December, increasing their payrolls by 8.7%. That was the largest percentage increase since 2007, when a boom was ending.

Using the seasonally adjusted numbers, which take into account the normal seasonal hiring patterns, general merchandise jobs climbed 54,300 over the two months. That was the largest such end-of-year increase since the government began calculating the figures in 1990. On a percentage basis, the 1.65% rise was the largest since a 1.73% gain in 1999, when another boom was ending.

It may or may not be worth noting that the years following those booms were not wonderful ones for the stock market. The S.&P. 500 fell 10% in 2000 and 38% in 2008.