Sorry ADP, Not Everyone Believes the Economy Created 297,000 Jobs


That big positive surprise this morning from the ADP jobs report was nice while it lasted — which was all of about 30 seconds by market standards.

Unfortunately, a number of traders and economists aren't willing to take seriously the report that ADP and Macroeconomic Advisors put out suggesting the economy created 297,000 jobs over the past month.

A quick straw poll this morning showed a lot of disbelief in the ADP numbers, and the report did virtually nothing to move the stock market, though futures pared some losses immediately after the release.

Equities meandered through morning trading, though other markets did react. In particular, bonds showed a strong reversal of earlier gains, while the dollar gained more than 1 percentand in turn pressured commodities priecs.

But don’t expect many major revisions for Friday’s Labor Department report, expected to show nonfarm job increases of 140,000 jobs and an unchanged unemployment rate of 9.7 percent.

“ADP has had some spectacular misses and I’m a little bit hesitant at this point to fully buy into the data,” said Joe LaVorgna, chief US economist at Deutsche Bank in New York. “We think we’ll eventually get there, but this is one of those things where seeing is believing.”

Still, LaVorgna said he is likely to up his forecast, which had been a somewhat bearish 100,000, up to 150,000.

But the main reasons he had the number lower in the first place was because he thinks the government has been too conservative when it releases the initial number, and the inclement weather also could cause seasonal distortions to the downside that will be amended in subsequent reports.

Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisors, defended the company’s estimates during a CNBC interview.

“There are some seasonal issues to consider surrounding this number,” he said. “This still has to be a number that has a powerful signal in it.”

Others were less kind when asked about the ADP reports.

Economists generally distrust the ADP numbers because the methodology is different than what Labor uses when compiling its reports. The firm’s numbers almost never match the government totals.

“To think that we got 300,000 jobs will be the surprise. It will be no surprise if once more ADP got it wrong,” said Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein.

Goldstein predicted ADP’s number is about double what the government will show. He’s not changing his forecast based on today’s report, but he said even at a 150,000 or so clip, that should be construed as positive for the economy.

“If you would have asked this question back in September where we would be at the end of the year, to think we could reasonably get 125,000, 150,000 new jobs by December would have seemed wildly optimistic,” he said. “Clearly there has been a change in the overall economic environment.”

Zach Pandl at Nomura Securities International broke it down further: He pointed out that ADP’s three greatest distortions all happened from December payrolls. That’s because companies will, for tax purposes, keep employees listed on payrolls even if they’re not being paid. The employees are usually purged in December, but ADP has “had had problems seasonally adjusting these December figures,” Pandl said in a note to clients.

As such, Nomura also is sticking to its forecast, which is still optimistic if not quite as buoyant as reflected in the ADP projections. The firm sees 165,000 jobs created and the unemployment rate dropping to 9.6 percent.

“Given these distortions and ADP’s spotty track record in predicting the BLS count of private employment, we are leaving our forecasts for Friday unchanged,” Pandl said.


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