Labor report: "Shockingly awful"

A rash of bad economic news dominates the headlines, but one giant multinational -- Monsanto -- is thriving. Even the unemployed need to eat

By Andrew Leonard

Published January 7, 2009 3:54PM (EST)

The U.S. private sector lost a whopping 693,000 jobs in December, according to the ADP Employer Services survey.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its own "official" count on Friday, but that's little consolation -- the ADP survey has historically come in lower than the government total. And if the BLS declares that the U.S. lost 700,000 jobs in December, reports the Financial Times, that would be the worst number in 59 years.

However, after undershooting the government numbers in November, the ADP changed its methodology, so the past doesn't offer us too much guidance. Still, no wonder the markets are upset this morning, (The Dow was down 185 an hour after opening). On Wednesday, Time Warner announced it was writing off 25 billion worth of losses for the fourth quarter of 2008, citing a decline in advertising revenue for its cable operations, and Intel reported that fourth quarter revenue would decline 23 percent, due to slacking worldwide demand for semiconductors. Two other industrial giants, IBM and Alcoa, both announced imminent job cuts.

"This is shockingly awful," the FT reported one economist's reaction to the ADP numbers. "We await Friday with trepidation."

But doom and gloom do not own the entire corporate universe. The Wall Street Journal reported that Monsanto is doing just fine. The agricultural biotech giant reported record sales and a doubling of profits for its fiscal first quarter, based largely on sales of its Roundup herbicide to Brazil, and genetically modified corn and soybeans.

Are GMO technology and industrial strength herbicides (and pesticides) recession-proof? Or are we still witnessing the lagging effects of the great agricultural commodity price boom of 2007-2008? One might assume that if China's economy continues to collapse, it's hunger for Brazilian soybeans will soon be sated, and Brazil's appetite for Monsanto products would consequently diminish. But then again, recession or no, everyone's gotta eat. For now, while the rest of the business world scrambles to avoid the floodwaters, Monsanto is high and dry.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Biotechnology Globalization How The World Works Monsanto Unemployment U.s. Economy Wall Street