US: Employment Situation

February 3, 2017 07:30 CST

Consensus Consensus Range Actual Previous Revised
Nonfarm Payrolls - M/M change 175,000 155,000 to 195,000 227,000 156,000 157,000
Unemployment Rate - Level 4.7% 4.6% to 4.7% 4.8% 4.7%
Private Payrolls - M/M change 180,000 160,000 to 188,000 237,000 144,000 165,000
Average Hourly Earnings - M/M change 0.3% 0.2% to 0.4% 0.1% 0.4% 0.2%
Av Workweek - All Employees 34.4hrs 34.3hrs to 34.4hrs 34.4hrs 34.3hrs 34.4hrs
Participation Rate - level 62.9% 62.7%

In very positive news, payroll growth in January did indeed exceed expectations, rising 227,000 for the best showing since September and well above the 2016 average of 187,000. Construction spending has been improving and it's seen in payrolls where the sector added a very strong 36,000 jobs in the month. Finance employment follows at 32,000.

In a sign of labor market slack, the unemployment rate rose 1 tenth to what is still a very low 4.8 percent. This reflects new entrants into the labor market as the labor force participation rate, which has been depressed, bounced 2 tenths higher to 62.9 percent. The pool of available workers rose 183,000 in the month to 13.4 million.

The surprise in this report, and one that will not heat up expectations for a rate hike at the March FOMC, is surprisingly light wage pressure as average hourly earnings ticked only 0.1 percent higher with, importantly, December revised down from an initially hot 0.4 percent to a gain of only 0.2 percent. The year-on-year rate, which was skirting the 3 percent line in December's initial data, is now way back at 2.5 percent.

The mix of this report is non-inflationary sustainable growth: rising payrolls, new entrants, stable wages. ADP and jobless claims, not to mention jobs-hard-to-get in the consumer confidence report, were all signaling a stronger-than-expected employment report for January, something to remember ahead of the next employment report. Note that the net effect of revisions, which include annual bench marking and a population update, were negligible but did skew November lower (164,000 vs a prior 204,000) and September higher (249,000 vs 208,000).

Market Consensus Before Announcement
The Econoday consensus for January nonfarm payrolls is a solid 175,000, up from December growth of 156,000. The consensus for the unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, unchanged from December. With unemployment low, wage data will be getting increasing scrutiny and average hourly earnings are expected to rise a sizable 0.3 percent in January vs December's outsized 0.4 percent increase. Possibly adding to January's pressure were state-level minimum wage increases. The average workweek is expected to rise 1 tenth to 34.4 hours.

The employment situation is a set of labor market indicators based on two separate surveys in this one report. The unemployment rate equals the number of unemployed persons divided by the total number of persons in the labor force, which comes from a survey of 60,000 households (this is called the household survey). Workers are only counted once, no matter how many jobs they have, or whether they are only working part-time. In order to be counted as unemployed, one must be actively looking for work. Other commonly known figures from the Household Survey include the labor supply and discouraged workers.

The Establishment Survey-a survey of over 557,000 worksites- provides additional indicators. Nonfarm payroll employment is the most popular and well-known indicator from this survey. Business establishments in the nonfarm sector report the number of workers currently on their payrolls. Double counting occurs when individuals hold more than one job. Workers on strike during the relevant week are not included in the figures.

Due to sizeable swings in payroll employment during 2010 for hiring and then layoffs of temporary workers for the decentennial Census, analysts started giving essentially equal attention to private nonfarm payrolls as to overall payrolls. This added focus continued even after temporary Census worker issues were no longer a problem as the long-duration recession caused state & local governments to cut their workforce even as the private sector began to rehire during recovery.

The average workweek is a leading indicator of employment. Businesses tend to adjust total hours worked by increasing or decreasing the workweek before hiring someone new or laying someone off. These figures come from the Establishment Survey.

Average hourly earnings are monthly payroll figures reported before deductions for taxes, social insurance and fringe benefits. They include pay for overtime, holidays, vacation and sick leave. These figures come from the Establishment Survey.

If ever there was an economic report that can move the markets, this is it! The anticipation on Wall Street each month is palpable, the reactions can be dramatic, and the information for investors is invaluable. By digging just a little deeper than the headline unemployment rate, investors can take more strategic control of their portfolio and even take advantage of unique investment opportunities that often arise in the days surrounding this report.

The employment data give the most comprehensive report on how many people are looking for jobs, how many have them, what they're getting paid and how many hours they are working. These numbers are the best way to gauge the current state as well as the future direction of the economy. Nonfarm payrolls are categorized by sectors. This sector data can go a long way in helping investors determine in which economic sectors they intend to invest.

The employment statistics also provide insight on wage trends, and wage inflation is high on the list of opponents of easy monetary policy. Fed officials constantly monitor this data watching for even the smallest signs of potential inflationary pressures, even when economic conditions are soggy. If inflation is under control, it is easier for the Fed to maintain a more accommodative monetary policy. If inflation is a problem, the Fed is limited in providing economic stimulus.

By tracking the jobs data, investors can sense the degree of tightness in the job market. If wage inflation threatens, it's a good bet that interest rates will rise; bond and stock prices will fall. No doubt that the only investors in a good mood will be the ones who watched the employment report and adjusted their portfolios to anticipate these events. In contrast, when job growth is slow or negative, then interest rates are likely to decline - boosting up bond and stock prices in the process.

The employment situation is the primary monthly indicator of aggregate economic activity because it encompasses all major sectors of the economy. It is comprehensive and available early in the month. Many other economic indicators are dependent upon its information. It not only reveals information about the labor market, but about income and production as well. In short, it provides clues about other economic indicators reported for the month and plays a big role in influencing financial market psychology during the month. Additionally, the Fed has made 6.5 percent unemployment a threshold for considering changes in policy - both for quantitative easing and the fed funds rate. And the Fed has emphasized that it is overall labor market conditions that matter - not just a specific number.

The bond market will rally (fall) when the employment situation shows weakness (strength). The equity market often rallies with the bond market on weak data because low interest rates are good for stocks. But sometimes the two markets move in opposite directions. After all, a healthy labor market should be favorable for the stock market because it supports economic growth and corporate profits. At the same time, bond traders are more concerned about the potential for inflationary pressures.

The unemployment rate rises during cyclical downturns and falls during periods of rapid economic growth. A rising unemployment rate is associated with a weak or contracting economy and declining interest rates. Conversely, a decreasing unemployment rate is associated with an expanding economy and potentially rising interest rates. The fear is that wages will accelerate if the unemployment rate becomes too low and workers are hard to find.

Nonfarm payroll employment indicates the current level of economic activity. Increases in nonfarm payrolls translate into earnings that workers will spend on goods and services in the economy. The greater the increase in employment, the faster is the total economic growth. When the economy is in the mature phase of an expansion, rapid increases in employment cause fears of inflationary pressures if rapid demand for goods and services cannot be met by current production.

When the average workweek trends up, it supports production gains in the current period and portends additional employment increases. When the average workweek is in a declining mode, it probably is signaling a potential slowdown in employment growth-or even outright declines in employment in case of recession.

Gains in average hourly earnings represent wage pressures. It is worth noting that these figures aren't adjusted for overtime pay or shifts in the composition of the workforce, which affects wages on its own. Market participants believe that a rising trend in hourly earnings will lead to higher inflation. But if increased wages are matched by productivity gains, producers likely will not increase product prices with wages because their unit labor costs are stable.