Thursday, April 05, 2012

Employment Situation Preview

by Bill McBride on 4/05/2012 02:55:00 PM

Tomorrow (Friday) the BLS will release the March Employment Situation Summary at 8:30 AM ET. Bloomberg is showing the consensus is for an increase of 201,000 payroll jobs in March, and for the unemployment rate to remain unchanged at 8.3%.

Note:
• The weather was mild in January and February, and it is possible that some hiring was pulled forward. Several analysts have pointed out that the BLS reported that few people were "not at work due to bad weather" in January and February. I looked back at previous years with mild weather (using the BLS "not at work, bad weather" measurement), and employment gains in March were solid following mild weather during January and February. So I don't expect much payback due to the weather.

• The economic questions for tomorrow (see pickem game on top right sidebar) is to take the over or under on the consensus for payroll jobs and to forecast the unemployment rate.

Here is a summary of recent data:

• The ADP employment report showed an increase of 209,000 private sector payroll jobs in March. Although ADP seems to track the BLS over time, the ADP report hasn't been very useful in predicting the BLS report. Also note that government payrolls declined by about 18,000 over the last three months (about 6,000 per month), so the ADP report suggests 209,000 private nonfarm payroll jobs added, minus 6,000 government workers - or around 203,000 total jobs added in March (close to the consensus).

• The ISM manufacturing employment index increased to 56.1% from 53.2% in February. A historical correlation between the ISM index and the BLS employment report for manufacturing, suggests that private sector BLS reported payroll jobs for manufacturing increased about 14,000 in March.

The ISM service employment index increased to 56.7% from 55.7% in March. Based on a historical correlation between the ISM non-manufacturing employment index and the BLS employment report for service, this reading suggests the gain of around 240,000 private payroll jobs for services in March.

Combined the ISM surveys suggest an employment report somewhat above the consensus.

Initial weekly unemployment claims averaged about 366,000 in March, down slightly from 374,000 average in January and February.

For the BLS reference week (includes the 12th of the month), initial claims were at about the same level as in January and February when the economy added 284,000 and 227,000 payroll jobs respectively.

• The final March Reuters / University of Michigan consumer sentiment index increased to 76.2, up slightly from the February reading of 75.3. This is frequently coincident with changes in the labor market, but also strongly related to gasoline prices and other factors. This suggests a weak but improving labor market.

• And a little optimism from the NFIB (small business): NFIB Jobs Statement: Job Creation Shows Mixed Signals

“March came in like a lion on the job-front, but went out tempered by future job growth indicators. Overall, the March survey anticipates some strength in the job creation number with little change in the unemployment rate. With job openings and plans for job creation both falling, prospects for a surge in job creation in the small business sector are still not promising.

Building on February’s increased jobs numbers, March’s survey gives us the best readings since January and February of 2011. The net change in employment per firm (seasonally adjusted) was 0.22, double the reading for February.
The participants in the NFIB surveys still aren't doing much hiring, however the small business index from Intuit showed 65,000 small business jobs created in March.

• And on the unemployment rate from Gallup: U.S. Unemployment Declines in March
U.S. unemployment, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment, declined to 8.4% in March from 9.1% in February, while Gallup's seasonally adjusted rate fell to 8.1% from 8.6% in February.
...
Gallup's monitoring of the unemployment situation includes the entire month, while the BLS uses a mid-month reference week.

Gallup's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was essentially unchanged at 8.5% in mid-March from 8.6% in February, but then fell to 8.1% for all of March. How much of the sharp decline in unemployment during the second half of March will be picked up in the government's mid-month reference week is unclear.
NOTE: The Gallup poll results are Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA), so use with caution.

There always seems to be some randomness to the employment report, but the overall situation has improved (lower initial weekly unemployment claims, more job openings). The ADP report suggests the consensus is close, and the ISM reports suggest the consensus is a little low.

Once again I'll take the over (above 201,000 payroll jobs), and I think a further decline in the unemployment rate is possible (this depends on the participation rate and if discouraged workers return to the labor force).

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