ADP estimate: 263K jobs added in March

Last month, the ADP employment report suggested a “blowout” month of job creation in February, sparking some boasts from supporters of the incoming administration. That didn’t pan out as expected, although the official numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed a decent level of job creation much in line with January’s numbers, suggesting more of a status quo than a blowout. Now ADP’s back with a somewhat more moderate estimate of job growth in March — and a hefty revision from their February projection:

Private sector employment increased by 263,000 jobs from February to March according to the March ADP National Employment Report® . Broadly distributed to the public each month, free of charge, the ADP National Employment Report is produced by the ADP Research Institute® in collaboration with Moody’s Analytics. The report, which is derived from ADP’s actual payroll data, measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis. …

“The U.S. labor market finished the first quarter on a strong note,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “Consumer dependent industries including healthcare, leisure and hospitality, and trade had strong growth during the month.”

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics said, “Job growth is off to a strong start in 2017. The gains are broad based but most notable in the goods producing side of the economy including construction, manufacturing and mining.”

The 263K result does suggest that the level of job creation in the US still outpaces the maintenance level needed for population growth, but it’s not exactly a “blowout” either. The more interesting aspect of this report is its somewhat dramatic downward revision for February. Originally, ADP estimated February job creation in the private sector at 298K, based on its payroll-service growth. Now, however, ADP lists it at 245K, a drop of almost 20% — a rather large miss within its own data, let alone against BLS final results.

Reaction to the result has been somewhat mixed. CNBC once again calls this a “blowout” in relation to its comparison to expectations, even though it differs only marginally from the previous two months:

Companies added 263,000 jobs for the month, ADP and Moody’s Analytics said. That was well above the 185,000 expected from economists surveyed by Reuters and also better than the 245,000 reported for February.

The February number was revised significantly lower, however, from the originally reported 298,000.

They do point out one significant change to the status quo. Manufacturing is beginning to show more strength, a welcome sign for American workers, and small businesses may be leading the way too:

In addition to the big gain on the headline number, the month also continued a trend away from services-oriented positions dominating job creation. Goods-producing firms contributed 82,000 to the total, as construction led the way with 49,000 new jobs. …

In terms of company size, fewer than 50 employees was the biggest growth area, with 118,000. Firms that employ 50 to 499 workers added 100,000.

The Financial Times reports on significant differences within the economic community on how to interpret this data. Most economists are not moving their benchmark expectations in response to this report; UBS’ Samuel Coffin is keeping his at 155,000 for March, while Citigroup pegs theirs at 175,000 and Jeffries predicts 185,000. Goldman Sachs likes what it sees from ADP but cautions against “some upside risk to Friday’s employment numbers,” similar to what happened last month.

Josh Boak at the Associated Press took the jobs-half-empty approach, a sharp contrast to CNBC’s analysis, based on other data out today:

U.S. services companies saw their growth rate taper off in March, as hiring and business activity remained positive but dipped relative to February.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group for purchasing managers, said Wednesday that its services index fell to 55.2 last month from 57.6 in February. Any reading above 50 signals growth. …

The services sector has now expanded for 87 straight months. But the employment reading dropped to 51.6 last month from 55.2 in February, while business activity and production pulled back to a reading of 58.9 from a solid 63.6.

In other words, don’t get too attached to expectations of a “blowout.”