US Adds More Jobs, Markets Unconvinced (ADP)

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Private employers added 187,000 jobs in January, according to the latest report on private-sector employment from Automatic Data Processing Inc. (NYSE: ADP). The number beat expectations of 145,000, but wary investors have so far been unimpressed, put off perhaps by last month’s report that was higher than official US government figures. Analysts are expecting US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to show a rise in non-farm payrolls of 145,000, including a rise in private payrolls of 155,000. Any chance of reaching 250,000-300,000 new jobs appears to be off the board at this point, at least for this month.

Last month, ADP reported that 297,000 new jobs were created in December in the private sector. The company revised that figure downward to 247,000 jobs in today’s report, but that is still far above the 103,000 non-farm jobs reported by the BLS. The government’s report on non-farm payrolls is due for release on Friday, February 4th.

In order for the US to lower its 9.4% unemployment rate by any significant amount, the country needs to add about 250,000-300,000 jobs a month. Of that, 150,000 jobs go to new entrants into the labor force and the rest represent workers coming off the unemployment rolls. The consensus estimate for the January unemployment rate is 9.5%, making any chance of reaching 250,000 new jobs in January infinitesimally small.

The ADP report does offer a bit of hope for hitting that higher target though. Since mid-2010, employment gains have averaged about 52,000 jobs a month. ADP says that for December and January average job gains total 217,000, not really all that far from the magic number.

Another bit of encouraging news on employment comes from a report by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, cited by Reuters, which indicates that even though planned layoffs at US companies rose 20% in January as compared with December, the absolute number of layoffs, 38,519, was the lowest for the month of January since 1993.

One other bit of encouraging news came yesterday in the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) report on growth in the manufacturing sector. PMI for January rose to 60.8%, its highest level since May of 2004, and employment rose above 60%, again a high since May 2004. That’s the 16th consecutive month of job growth in the manufacturing sector. ADP, however, noted just 19,000 additional jobs in manufacturing in January. Even as manufacturing employment grows, it might not be growing enough to make a real difference in employment.

If Friday’s BLS report on non-farm payrolls is closer than last month’s to the ADP report, job additions of 250,000 a month may not be too far off. That’s a very big ‘if’, but it’s not out of the question that the US economy could be adding that many jobs by early summer. But it’s not likely that 250,000 will be a realistic target before then.

The markets opened lower this morning, after the positive report from ADP. That could be fallout over last month’s discrepancy with BLS numbers, or it could be that investors were just reaping some profits following yesterday’s big gain. The DJIA is now up slightly about an hour after the opening bell.

Paul Ausick