ADP Employment Growth Crashes: Our Assessment

ADP, by far the largest payroll provider in the USA, says private non-farm payroll grew in the USA 38,000 in May 2011 –  far below the equilibrium job growth of 150,000 to keep even with population growth.

Historically employment is the confirmation that real economic growth is occurring.   As background, many economic factors impact jobs growth.  How many jobs businesses create in any one month is not directly dependent on these economic factors, but on individual decisions.  The impact of all the economic factors is averaged out over many months.

It appears many businesses have decided to hold off hiring.  This low number is surprising to Econintersect.  In our May 2011 economic forecast, we estimated non-farm payroll growth at 130,000 which is far below other pundits who estimated 190,000.

But there has been a lot of warning that employment would be lower based on the recent rise in the initial unemployment claims we have been seeing over the last 2 months.

The red line in the above graph is the historical jobs creation pressures from the economy.  May is in a contraction period.  The actual (blue line) has been running well above our calculated growth line (red line).  Maybe this month was a  catchup month?

Or there could be other factors – such as inflation which is deadly to an economy which is not growing fast.  Another possibility is the economy is weaker than Econintersect has forecast.   Over the coming months, an answer will be more obvious as one month’s data is not a trend.

Small and medium size business is the jobs growth engine.  This month it was large business who contracted creating employment headwinds.

Because of the differences in methodology, many pundits ignore the ADP numbers – while waiting for the BLS numbers released later this week.  Although there can be a low correlation in a particular month, the different methodologies tend to balance out, and the correlations are excellent outside of the data turning points.  We are now 15 months past the post recession turning point in employment.

The message here is not to ignore the underlying trends in the ADP numbers.

Econintersect follows the jobs overview by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.  Their press release for May:

The pace of downsizing remained virtually unchanged in May, as U.S. employers announced plans to cut 37,135 positions from their payrolls during the month.  That is just 1.8 percent more than the 36,490 job cuts in April, according to the report released Wednesday by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

The May total was also about the same as a year ago, declining just 4.3 percent from the 38,810 job cuts announced in May 2010.  May marks the third time this year and the tenth time in the last 14 months that announced job cuts totaled less than 40,000.

Employers have now announced 204,374 job cuts in 2011, 21 percent fewer than the 258,319 planned layoffs reported in the first five months of 2010.

The government and non-profit sector continues to dominate monthly job-cut announcements, with these employers reporting 14,755 in May or nearly 40 percent of all job cuts announced during the month.  The May total was up 37 percent  from April’s 10,371, but 11.6 percent lower than the 16,697 government job cuts announced in May 2010.  Since January 2009, the government and non-profit sector has announced 380,523 job cuts.

Government cutbacks are bleeding into the private sector, where job cuts in the aerospace and defense industry have experienced a mini-surge.  These firms announced 5,778 job cuts in May, bringing the year-to-date total to 17,570.  While the five-month total is still relatively low by historical standards, it marks a dramatic increase from a year ago.  In fact, the 2011 five-month total is now just 1,580 fewer than the 2010 year-end total of 19,150.

“Recent economic news definitely has been mixed.  Orders for durable goods fell in April.  Filings for jobless claims unexpectedly increased in the most recent week of data.  The outlook for the housing market remains grim.  Yet, corporate profits continue to rise and job creation in the private sector is accelerating with employers adding 760,000 new workers to their payrolls since February.  With the lack of clarity, it is no wonder that one reading on consumer confidence showed improvement in May, while another showed a significant decline,” noted John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“Despite several signs of weakness in the recovery, the continued slow pace of downsizing outside of the government sector suggests that employers do not see these as long-term problems.  Most employers realize that these types of ups and downs are typical during recoveries.  So, it is unlikely that we will see a sudden resurgence in corporate downsizing in the months ahead unless there is a major shock to the economy,” he said.

There is every reason to believe BLS numbers will also be weak.  A quick look at Challenger’s hiring data shows a drop.

We await Friday’s BLS numbers.

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