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Payrolls Preview: Unemployment Rate Expected To Drop (But Blame The Weather & Calendar If Not)

Thursday, December 1, 2016 22:56
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(Before It's News)

A series of stronger than expected data in recent days pushed Goldman Sachs to up their payrolls growth expectation to 200k (above the 180k expectations), but they note that while the unemployment rate is likely to drop (to 4.8%), average hourly earnings may disappoint. Of course, they add, any non-narrative-confirming misses on the data can likely be explained away by “weather effects and residual seasonality.”

As Goldman details, we forecast that nonfarm payroll growth increased to 200k in November, after an increase of 161k in October. We have revised up our forecast from 180k previously reflecting stronger data this week. Labor market indicators were stronger on balance last month, including improvements in reported job availability, the ADP report, and the employment components of service-sector surveys. In addition, we see a likely boost from positive weather effects and possible residual seasonality.

Arguing for a stronger report:

Job availability. The Conference Board labor differential—the difference between the percent of respondents saying jobs are plentiful and those saying jobs are hard to get—rose to +5.2, reversing a small decline in October. This measure has risen by about ten points over the last year.

Service sector surveys. The employment components of service sector surveys mostly improved in November. The Richmond Fed (+7pt to +13), Dallas Fed (+6.5pt to +9.2), and New York Fed (+2.2pt to +10.9, after our seasonal adjustment) measures of service sector employment all strengthened. The Philly Fed non-manufacturing employment index edged down (-0.7pt to +15.6) but remains at levels consistent with expansion. Service sector employment increased 142k in October and has increased 161k on average over the last six months.

ADP. The payroll processing firm ADP reported a 216k gain in private payroll employment in November, up from a downwardly revised 119k increase in October. While this is a significant beat, the new methodology ADP introduced last month creates some additional uncertainty around the translation of this upside ADP surprise into the outlook for tomorrow’s nonfarm payroll report.

Some rebound from Hurricane-related weakness. In October, employment in the three sectors that we find are most sensitive to weather-related swings – retail, construction, and leisure and hospitality – increased by 20k, which is a smaller gain than the 6-month (33k) and 12-month (73k) average changes through September. Among East Coast states, employment in these sectors declined by a total of 16k in October, relative to an average monthly increase of 15k over the prior six months (Exhibit 1). Some of the biggest declines were in Florida and South Carolina, the states most impacted by Hurricane Matthew.

Seasonals. Since the recession, November payroll growth has surprised consensus expectations roughly 2/3 of the time, with an average surprise of +27k.

Exhibit 1: Some Potential Upside from East Coast States Impacted by Hurricane-related Weakness

Source: Department of Labor, Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research

Neutral Factors:

Temporary election-related hiring. Election-related hiring typically shows up to some degree in the government and marketing research and opinion polling categories in the non-seasonally adjusted payroll data. However, the BLS makes a special adjustment to these changes to remove the effects of the election and in prior election years those categories did not spike on a seasonally adjusted basis in November. Therefore, it is unlikely we will see any direct election effect in the seasonally adjusted series.

Jobless claims: Initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits moved slightly higher, with the four-week moving average edging up to 253k in the November survey week. Initial claims were affected by technical factors including temporary auto plant shutdowns and weather-related effects from Hurricane Matthew, but we do not detect a significant change in the underlying trend which continues to show low layoff activity in the economy.

Job cuts: Announced layoffs reported by Challenger, Gray & Christmas after our seasonal adjustment increased by 4k to 32k in November, but remain close to cycle-lows.

Arguing for a weaker report:

Online job ads. The Conference Board’s Help Wanted Online (HWOL) report reversed last month’s gains, and stands 15% lower than levels last year. However, we put limited weight on this indicator at the moment in light of research by Fed economists that argued that the HWOL ad count has been depressed by higher prices for online job ads.

Manufacturing sector surveys. The employment components of manufacturing surveys were mixed in November. The ISM manufacturing (-0.6pt to 52.3), Chicago PMI, Empire State (-6.2pt to -10.9), and Kansas City Fed (-6pt to +1) employment indexes all declined, while the Dallas Fed (+4.3pt to +4.5), Richmond Fed (+2pt to +5), and Philly Fed (+1.4pt to -2.4) measures edged up. Manufacturing employment declined by 9k in the October report, and has declined by 7k on average over the last six months.

We expect the unemployment rate to edge down to 4.8% in the November report from an unrounded 4.876% in October. Last month, the household survey showed a 43k decline in employment but the unemployment rate edged down to 4.9% due to a decline in labor force participation. The broader U6 unemployment rate dropped to a new post-crisis low of 9.5% as the number of involuntary part-time and marginally attached workers both declined.

We expect average hourly earnings to increase 0.1% month-over-month, or 2.7% from a year ago, after rising to a new cycle high of 2.8% year-on-year in October. A modest retracement of last month’s gains and negative calendar effects are likely to contribute to a softer number. Our wage tracker, which captures the broader trend in wage growth across four major indicators, stands at 2.6% year-over-year as of Q3.

*  *  *

Finally, we look forward to seeing The White House spokesperson basking in the afterglow of their track record compared to president-elect Trump's likely tweeted response.

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