It's been five or six weeks since I noted that there was something strange about the Quebec LFS employment numbers. A one per cent drop in employment in the space of two months looked like the ohmygodweareallgonnadie months of early 2009, but there didn't seem to be any supporting story for why it was happening in Quebec, and why it wasn't happening elsewhere.
Since then, more data have come in, and it seems pretty clear that there's a glitch in the Quebec LFS numbers. There are several graphs below the fold.
The two series tell very different stories. The LFS shows strong growth during the recovery, followed by a crash in the last two months of 2011. The SEPH shows more modest growth, and while growth may have slowed a bit near the end of 2011, there's nothing like the drop in the LFS numbers.
Which story is right? Another source of information about what's going on in the labour market is the number of new EI claims. These data are not seasonally adjusted, so they're grouped by month:
I don't see a surge of new claims in the last few months of 2011.
Here are the retail trade numbers:
Once again, no visible slowdown there.
Housing starts are down from what they were over the past two years. but then again, the last two years were pretty strong - Quebec escaped most of the worst effects of the recession. It's hard to reconcile starts falling to 2007 levels with a sharp drop in total employment.
Especially since building permits as a whole are holding up:
And finally, here is new motor vehicle sales:
The only series that shows a sharp fall in the latter part of 2011 is the LFS; nothing else seems to confirm the LFS story.
As far as I can tell, the Quebec LFS numbers for November and December are a statistical aberration, not a signal of a recession.