04 February 2010

Non-Farm Payrolls Report Preview for January 2010

The markets breathlessly await the latest Non-Farm Payrolls Report for the US, which will be released tomorrow morning. January is the month in this report that contains the largest seasonal adjustments by far.

Here is a projection of what tomorrow's numbers may look like, and their historical context. The raw number unadjusted for seasonality may be a loss of around 4,000,000 jobs.

It is no accident that the BLS does the major adjustment to its Birth-Death Model in January. Keep in mind that the Birth-Death adjustment is applied BEFORE seasonal adjustment, that is, to the raw, unadjusted number.

Given that the expected raw number will probably be around 3.5 million jobs lost, and then adjusted to a headline number much closer to zero, adding even 380,000 or so job losses to that does not result in such an enormous adjustment in January.

In other words, the adjustment is largely adjusted away by the seasonality. Nonsense, hardly connected to the real world, but quite clever bureaucratic sleight of hand really.

Saying all this, it seems almost needless to stress that any projection of the headline number is a tough call in January, because the seasonality has such enormous latitude. More in the nature of a SWAG than a proper forecast.

Then there is also the matter of the revisions to the prior two months at least, and the possibility of a revision to the whole series going back two years, which sometimes occurs.

So, we'll look for a 'headline number' closer to zero than not, with a shade to the negative, maybe a loss of 20,000 or so. But we are very prepared to be surprised to the upside to a positive number, and downside to a loss of around 80,000. That speaks less to our inability to forecast, we hope, and more so to the arbitrary nature of the government's willingness and ability to fiddle with the numbers.

With pretty colors, it may look more like a sideways chop than a plunge, especially in light of a greater negative from December which will be adjusted but not higher.

And as for the reaction of US equity markets in anticipation today?

As I have stated before, the banks and their prop trading desks are always and everywhere screwing you, and frontrunning their better insights into the markets, even if only by a few milliseconds.

Watch the sovereign debt situation. This may place a heavy weight on the equity markets. But perhaps not just yet.