Silver as an investment

July Payrolls Preview: Smooth Sailing But Watch Out For Cars

At 8:30am on Friday, the BLS is expected to announce that in July the US created 180K jobs, down from 222K in June though still in line with the 6-month average of 180K, with the biggest downside risk a slowdown in durable manufacturing payrolls as auto production slumped.

Sellside expectations:

  • UBS: 175K
  • Barclays: 175K
  • HSBC: 175K
  • SocGen: 180K
  • TD Securities: 190K
  • Goldman Sachs: 190K
  • Oxford Economics: 195K
  • Fathom Consulting: 210K
  • RBC: 220K

The unemployment rate is expected to decline to cycle lows of 4.3% from 4.4%, although the main focus will be on average hourly earnings which are forecast to slow to 2.4% Y/Y from 2.5% last month, up 0.3% sequentially, for an indication whether wage growth is finally picking up (which judging by yesterday’s Amazon job fair which showed tens of thousands of people lining up desperate for minium wage jobs, is not happening).

As RanSquawk notes, overall job growth has remained solid, despite a number of Fed officials forecasting a bigger slowdown as the US is very close to full employment. Most Fed officials have stated that the Fed is pretty much there in regards to their employment mandate, but Kashkari and Brainard have both been more cautious with Brainard saying that she is not confident that the Phillips curve can be counted on to return inflation to target and that there remains a question about whether an unemployment rate of 4.4% still meant there was slack left in the labour market.

As mentioned above, average hourly earnings will be one of the key data points to watch as wage growth has been subdued and shown no signs of surging above 3% recently, a level consistently seen pre-crisis. However, even if earnings come in softer than expected, it’s not expected to alter the course of the Fed anytime soon: the US central bank has signalled that an announcement on the beginning of balance sheet reduction will likely come in September, with one more rate hike pencilled in for December. With at least one more payrolls report before that meeting, plus more data on inflation, this report could be one that doesn’t alter the outlook a great deal. In other words, any traders waiting for tomorrow to start their vacations, can do so one day early.

Sectoral employment and wages:

Labor Supply:

The participation rate has been inching up. Slow wage growth also hints at less labor market tightness than the low unemployment rate would seem to suggest. The past year’s slower outflows from the labor force are consistent with that increasing supply. Through the end of last year, re-employment rates for the longterm unemployed were rising fairly rapidly—a renewed source of supply—but that improvement appears to have stalled.

Possible Reporting Quirks:

The July pay period ended on the 15th and the month also had two fewer workdays relative to June, both of which should boost seasonally-adjusted wage growth at the margin. On the negative side, Goldman notes the possibility of mean-reversion in the construction and information industries following above-trend wage growth in recent months. While wage growth has disappointed this year across multiple measures, it is likely that much of this weakness has been concentrated at the high-end, whereas wage growth in the bottom-half of the income distribution appears relatively high due to minimum wage increases and appears to be accelerating. To the extent that wage growth is more persistent in the lower and middle tiers of the income distribution, this would suggest scope for resilience in aggregate wage growth going forward.

Recent Labor Market Indicators:

Jobless claims continue to remain near a 44-year low with the four-week average at just 241,750. The headline figure has remained below 300K – a traditional indicator of an improving labour market – for over 2 years, the longest streak since the early 1970s. The most recent employment components of the dual ISM reports have shown employment growth continuing in July, albeit at a slower pace than June. The manufacturing survey showed employment dropping to 55.2 from 57.2 with the non-manufacturing survey dropping to 53.6 from 55.8. Nevertheless, both were still over the 50.0 threshold, indicating expansion.
The July ADP employment report was slightly weaker than expected but still strong at 178K. The figure bodes well from Friday’s official release but the correlation between the two reports is not one to usually write home about, RBC notes that it does a better job of predicting the official figure in July, “especially since the methodology shift back in 2012”.

Factors for a stronger report:

  • Service sector surveys. Service-sector employment surveys were mixed in July but remained at generally high levels. While the ISM non-manufacturing employment component fell 2.2pt to 53.6, our overall non-manufacturing employment tracker edged up 0.1pt to 54.8, a two-year high. This reflected gains in the Markit, New York Fed, and Richmond Fed employment subindices that were partially offset by a drop in the Dallas Fed and ISM Non-Manufacturing measures. Encouragingly, the Conference Board labor market differential – the difference between the percent of respondents saying jobs are plentiful and those saying jobs are hard to get –strengthened 2.5pt to 16.1, a 16-year high.
  • Evolving July seasonality. July nonfarm payrolls have risen by over 200k in each of the last three years (in both the first and final vintages), and growth has exceeded the 6-month average in both of the last two years. While one cannot rule out coincidence, there is a possibility that payrolls seasonality is evolving towards increased net hiring in July. On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, nonfarm employment typically declines by one million jobs or more in July, reflecting the departure of public and private education employees at the end of the school-year. Continued sharp seasonal declines in these categories each July have masked what appears to be a pickup in net hiring in private payrolls ex-education services (see left panel of Exhibit 1). So far, the nonfarm payrolls seasonal adjustment factors have appeared to lag this evolution, suggesting scope for solid seasonally adjusted job growth in tomorrow’s report.

Factors for a weaker report:

  • In its modestly negative preview, UBS – which expects a payroll number of 165K – notes that in June local government and healthcare payrolls rose unusually quickly, and retail jobs swung from falling to rising. The Swiss bank doubts those gains were repeated, and allows for some slowing in durable manufacturing payrolls as auto production declined. It also expects that with softer factory employment, average hourly earnings probably rose only 0.1%m/m, slowing 0.2pt to 2.3%. Furthermore, UBS notes that among the indicators of labor supply: —participation, labor market flows, and slow wage growth—hint that the jobs market is not as tight as the unemployment rate suggests. In turn, the pace of payrolls, faster or slower, is more likely an indication of changes in labor demand than supply.
  • initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits edged modestly higher, averaging 244k during the four weeks between the June and July payroll survey periods, up from 243k during the June payroll month and the cycle low of 241k in the May period. Additionally, continuing claims rose by 20k from survey week to survey week, similar to the 21k increase in the weeks leading up to the June payroll period.
  • Job availability. The Conference Board’s Help Wanted Online (HWOL) report showed a 3.3% pullback in July online job postings – its largest drop in five months. We place limited weight on this indicator at the moment, in light of research by Fed economists that suggests the HWOL ad count has been depressed by higher prices for online job ads. However, we note the possibility that the drop reflects a legitimate pull-back in labor demand.
  • Sharp slowdown in the auto sector: The manufacturing softness probably extended into July, and auto production cuts are an ongoing risk. Production cutbacks in auto manufacturing in July probably resulted in temporary layoffs as well as some drag on average hourly earnings.

Neutral factors:

  • Manufacturing sector surveys. While headline manufacturing sector surveys softened on net in July, the employment components generally held up well. The ISM manufacturing employment component pulled back 2pt from elevated levels (-2.0pt to 55.2), and other survey data were mixed, with sequential increases in Markit, Richmond Fed, and Dallas Fed employment subindices, but declines in the Chicago PMI, Philly Fed, and Empire Fed employment measures. Our overall manufacturing employment tracker edged down 0.3pt to 55.7, the lowest since February but still well above the 2016 average of 49.4. Manufacturing payroll employment edged up 1k in July and has increased 9k on average over the last six months.
  • ADP. The payroll processing firm ADP reported a 178k increase in private payroll employment in July. While this was 12k below consensus expectations, the pace of June growth was revised up by 33k, providing mixed signals for tomorrow’s employment report. While large surprises in the ADP report have tended to predict the subsequent nonfarm payroll surprise, a 12k miss is probably not large enough to qualify. Moreover, this relationship may have deteriorated since ADP’s methodological revamp last October as shown in Exhibit 2, which plots each ADP surprise (vs. consensus based on first-reported ADP) against the subsequent nonfarm payrolls surprise.

Market Reaction

As is often the case with the employment report, a knee-jerk reaction is often observed following the headline figure. If a miss is seen then initial USD weakness could be observed with treasuries picking up and vice-versa on a stronger-than-expected headline. However, as the market digests the report, you often see a retracement depending on the other components of the report

What the Banks Are Saying

  • BARCLAYS (EXP. 175K): We expect nonfarm payrolls to rise 175k, with a 170k increase in private payrolls. July will be the first “clean” reading on labor markets since April, as the timing of the May survey week and the return of college-aged workers to the labor force, in our view, distorted May and June payrolls. The average gain in payrolls in 2017 has been 179k, and our forecast assumes this trend rate of hiring continued in July. Elsewhere in the report, we expect the unemployment rate to decline one-tenth, to 4.3%, and average hourly earnings to rise 0.3% m/m and 2.4% y/y. Finally, we expect no change in average weekly hours at 34.5.
  • CAPITAL ECONOMICS (EXP. 222K): We estimate that overall non-farm payrolls followed the 222,000 gain in June with another healthy 200,000 increase in July. The downward trend in initial jobless claims shows little signs of abating, while the recent strength of temporary help employment is also a positive sign. In addition, the employment index of the Markit Composite PMI rose to a seven-month high in July. Another strong month of employment growth should have been enough to push the unemployment rate back down to 4.3% in July, and the surveys suggest it will fall even lower. Meanwhile, although we have pencilled in a stronger 0.3% m/m gain in average hourly earnings, base effects probably dragged the annual growth rate back down to 2.4%. But if the unemployment rate does continue to fall, wage growth should come under some renewed upward pressure before long.
  • FATHOM CONSULTING (EXP. 210K): We expect next Friday’s employment report to show that 210,000 net new nonfarm payrolls were added in July. This is slightly higher than the consensus estimate of a gain of 180,000. We forecast a 0.3% increase in average hourly earnings in July, but given the 0.4% gain in average hourly earnings in July last year, this would be consistent with the annual rate of earnings growth slipping from 2.5% to 2.4%. Such meagre earnings growth is linked to low productivity growth: with employees’ output per hour growing very slowly, workers are finding it hard to negotiate higher wages, despite the low unemployment rate.
  • GOLDMAN SACHS (EXP. 190K): We have argued that the US economy will soon move past full employment, and that the funds rate needs to rise in order to prevent an overheating that would be difficult to reverse without a recession. But the recent weakness in the inflation and wage data poses a challenge to our view. After all, full employment is typically defined as the level of resource utilization that generates wage and price pressures consistent with the Fed’s target. So the shortfall could mean that current estimates of a near-zero output and employment gap will prove wrong. Nevertheless, our conviction that we are at full employment is relatively high. First, other labor market indicators—including job openings, quits, reported skill shortages, and household assessments of job availability—are if anything indicative of an even stronger labor market than the official unemployment rate. Several of these indicators also cast doubt on the notion that labor force participation remains cyclically depressed, as does the fact that the participation rate is now slightly higher than the projection from a remarkably prescient 2006 Fed staff study. Second, we do not view the recent price and wage data as a “red flag” indicating additional slack. Core price inflation is only loosely related to labor market slack as the “price Phillips curve” is quite flat. The “wage Phillips curve” is steeper, making it in principle more suitable for backing out slack. But the recent slowdown has come mostly in areas where wage growth is statistically somewhat less sensitive to labor market slack. Moreover, surveys of wage growth have continued to accelerate and now imply a 3% pace, close to the maximum rate that we think is sustainable in the longer term. Based on this, we expect wage growth to rebound before long. In the near term, Fed officials will not need to take a strong view on these issues. Balance sheet runoff in September/October seems very likely barring a major market shock, while a September rate hike is very unlikely. So the next big date is the December meeting, when the committee needs to decide whether to resume the hikes. At least based on our analysis of the labor market, the answer is likely to be yes.
  • HSBC (EXP. 175K): The average monthly increase in nonfarm payrolls in the first half of 2017 was 180,000. Retail employment growth has slowed this year, but many other key industries continue to create jobs at a steady pace. We forecast nonfarm payrolls increased by 175,000 in July. Wage growth has picked up only modestly in recent years, even as the unemployment rate has continued to fall. We forecast a 0.3% m-o-m rise in average hourly earnings in July. The year-on-year rate could slip to 2.4%, down from 2.5% in June. We forecast the unemployment rate fell to 4.3% in July from 4.4% in June.
  • OXFORD ECONOMICS (EXP. 195K): We have July Payroll rising 195,000 on the heels of a 222,000 gain in June. Our July forecast is just above average monthly payroll growth in the 6-months ending June (+180,000). We have the July unemployment rate dipping back down to 4.3% after rising to 4.4% in June. We also see average hourly earnings in July rising 0.3% after rising by 0.2% in June.
  • RBC (EXP. 220K): Following a relatively weak start to the year (which, again, was inconsistent with nearly every other labor market metric), we expect payroll growth to remain on the firm side near-term. Accordingly, we look for headline and private NFP prints of 220K and 205K for July, respectively. This pace of payroll growth would be more than enough to elicit a sharp decline in the unemployment rate (assuming we got commensurate gains in the Household survey), but we are cognizant that with sentiment on the labor backdrop at 16-year highs (look at the Conference Board’s labor differential sitting at +16.1%), we could see some firming in the labor force beyond normal population growth (i.e., from folks coming back in from the sidelines). So we are penciling in just a modest downturn in unemployment, to 4.3% from 4.4% prior.
  • TD SECURITIES (EXP. 190K): We expect a solid 190k print, taking into account risk for a sharp pullback in government jobs as labor market indicators on balance point to a 200k+ gain. A lower unemployment rate (4.3% vs 4.4%) and solid 0.3% gain on avg hourly earnings should garner a hawkish market reaction, though due to base effects in the latter, the y/y pace on wage growth should be little changed to lower.
  • UBS (EXP. 175K): We continue to forecast headline payrolls up 175k in Friday’s employment report (consensus 180k) and private payrolls up 165k (consensus 180k). We project slightly softer average hourly earnings growth (+0.1%m/m vs consensus 0.3%), and the unemployment rate falling 0.1pt to 4.3% (consensus 4.3%). ADP reported private payrolls up 178k in July, little different from the consensus forecast for private payrolls in Friday’s employment report (180k) or our own forecast (165k). Services payrolls continued to rise on trend, but payrolls for goods-producing industries decelerated sharply, with some slowing in construction and natural resources and a decline in factory payrolls. In our forecast for BLS payrolls, we have incorporated a drag from the auto sector, where summer shutdowns appear more extensive than usual. At the margin, the ADP report supports that drag. ADP manufacturing payrolls fell 4k in July versus +17k per month on average in H1. That said, it’s hard to take too much from the ADP report. On average, ADP’s initial estimate of private payrolls has overstated the BLS estimate by 50k per month this year, but in June it instead understated by 29k. The large errors, and the low probability of guessing when they switch from positive to negative, make ADP fairly unreliable as an indicator for the BLS measure.