On Tuesday, January 3rd TrimTabs released its December jobs estimate which showed the U.S. economy added only 38,000 new jobs. Today, ADP released its December jobs estimate pointing to job growth of a stunning 325,000 new jobs, almost 10 times TrimTabs estimate. In addition, the consensus estimate for the BLS report this Friday is for 150,000 jobs. Whoa! The differences between the three estimates begs the question of what is going on here?
Before we answer that question, a few observations are in order. First, we challenge the notion that the BLS should be the standard bearer for job growth in the U.S. because its estimates are frequently revised, ranging from a few percent to several hundred percent. For example, in August, the BLS revised its estimate up from 0, a showing an economy on the verge of recession, to 104,000 showing an economy experiencing positive but weak economic growth. Second, the BLS and the ADP estimates are based on surveys that are incomplete when released.
The BLS survey is only about 70% to 75% complete when it releases its first estimate. Finally, seasonal adjustments from November through January are enormous and range from a low of 800,000 jobs to a high of 2.1 million jobs to account for the huge number of holiday seasonal jobs that come and go during the holiday season.
TrimTabs jobs estimate, on the other hand, is based on daily income tax withholdings to 130 million wage earners. Historically, our jobs estimates have been more accurate than the BLSí. BUT and this is the big BUT, like ADP and the BLS December and January are the most challenging months for the following reasons: First, if there are tax law changes, they typically expire or go into effect in December or January; second, there are two or three holidays in December, Veteranís Day, the optional Christmas eve holiday, and Christmas day; finally, December kicks off bonus season which adds non job-growth taxable income to payrolls from late December through March. TrimTabs makes adjustments for these one time calendar effects but some years are more difficult than others as this one might be.
Given the trends in tax withholdings the last few months, there is no way that job growth was a whopping 325,000 in December, certainly not permanent job growth. If there was a big jump in permanent job growth in December we would have seen it in our other real-time indicator, TrimTabs Online Jobs Index. That index, however has declined 8.0% since October which means that hiring managers are sitting on the sidelines until more clarity emerges about economic growth this coming year.
The proof, as always, is in the pudding. Soon the BLS will release its benchmarked results for the year ending March 2011 which will allow us to truth our model. Let me tell you, we eagerly await those results.
Director of Macroeconomic Research
TrimTabs Investment Research
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