ADP: Get ready for a blockbuster jobs report tomorrow

Sound familiar? It should, because ADP predicted a similarly blockbuster month of job growth in December, with a projected increase of 250,000 private-sector jobs in that month. The actual BLS result? A surprisingly weak 148,000 gain.

This month, ADP projects that the US economy added 234,000 private-sector jobs, almost 50,000 above expectations:

Private-sector employment increased by 234,000 jobs from December to January according to the January 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. …

“We’ve kicked off the year with another month of unyielding job gains,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “Service providers were firing on all cylinders, posting their strongest gain in more than a year. We also saw robust hiring from midsize and large companies, while job growth in smaller firms slowed slightly.”

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said, “The job market juggernaut marches on. Given the strong January job gain, 2018 is on track to be the eighth consecutive year in which the economy creates over 2 million jobs. If it falls short, it is likely because businesses can’t find workers to fill all the open job positions.”

CNBC certainly seems excited by this news, although they do note that ADP’s projection last month was “heavy”:

ADP January payrolls up 234,000 from CNBC.

Economists surveyed by Reuters had been looking for private payrolls to grow by 185,000.

Job creation was concentrated largely in service-related industries, which contributed 212,000 to the total.

Within that sector some of the better-paying industries showed solid gains: Trade, transportation and utilities led with 51,000, education and health services added 47,000 and professional and businesses services contributed 46,000. Leisure and hospitality services also grew by 46,000.

Zandi calls this “an excruciatingly tight labor market.” If so, it has managed to miss one key product — substantial wage growth. Everyone wants to see a full-employment economy, of course, but there’s a difference in declaring one and being in one. If labor was as tight as Zandi describes here, we’d see rapid growth in compensation as a response to the competition for scarcer labor resources — and we just aren’t seeing that at all, at least not in the data so far.

So what is happening? The workforce participation ratios remain depressed, even since the start of the recession. The American population is growing older and more people are retiring, and the baby boomer generation was expected to exit at some point anyway. However, the change has been so rapid that it seems more likely that we still have an “inventory” of able-bodied people who remain stuck outside the system without opportunities to re-enter — bailing out into disability programs, perhaps, or other safety-net programs. Until we get everyone back into the workforce, the lack of wage growth makes the “tight” labor market look more like myth than reality.

Certainly, it would be great to see job creation return to the mid-200s, but will we see it? The ADP report is an interesting leading indicator, but not a terribly reliable one.