What Economists Are Saying Ahead of the March U.S. Jobs Report

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Economists are looking for a stabilization in U.S. payrolls after getting whipsawed by hot-and-cold swings in the past two jobs reports and other recent indicators giving mixed signals on employment.

Nonfarm jobs increased by 177,000 in March, according to Bloomberg’s survey, a level that would be just under the three-month trend but down from last year’s 223,000 average. The unemployment rate is projected to hold at 3.8 percent, near an almost half-century low, with annual wage gains remaining at a 3.4 percent pace, the strongest of the economic expansion.

Analysts will also be focused on the revision for February’s big payrolls slump to 20,000, the weakest reading in almost a year and a half, after January’s 311,000 gain, which was upwardly revised.

Estimates in Bloomberg’s survey for the March figure range from 110,000 to 277,000. Here’s what some economists expect, with projections listed from low to high:

ING Groep

  • 160,000 jobs, 3.8 percent unemployment, 3.5 percent annual wage growth
  • “February’s very soft jobs report contributed to markets pricing in Fed rate cuts later this year, but we expect a much better set of figures for March which should help ease market fears about a slowdown,” Chief International Economist James Knightley wrote in a note. February’s “astonishingly” low payrolls figure growth was “too bad to be true,” and there’s scope for an upward revision, he said.

TD Securities

  • 165,000 jobs, 3.8 percent unemployment, 3.3 percent wage growth
  • “We expect a recovery in employment in the construction sector following a sharp decline in February that likely reflected some impact from adverse weather,” write analysts led by Michael Hanson, head of global macro strategy. “Manufacturing and services jobs should also register more trend-like gains.”

Citigroup

  • 170,000 jobs, 3.8 percent unemployment, 3.3 percent wage growth
  • “An upside surprise would support our view that underlying activity remains solid, implying little need for a rate cut from the Fed this year,” economist Veronica Clark writes. “However, the more substantial market reaction could be in the event of another sub-100k downside surprise.”

Nomura

  • 170,000 jobs, 3.8 percent unemployment, 3.2 percent wage growth
  • “While we expect moderate strength to continue over the medium term, incoming data during March suggests some room for caution when evaluating the labor market outlook during the month,” Chief U.S. Economist Lewis Alexander writes. “We do not expect a full reversal of February’s weak number and believe the below-consensus reading was likely due to payback from unusually strong increases over previous months and idiosyncratic factors such as weather.”

Bloomberg Economics

  • 175,000 jobs, 3.8 percent unemployment, 3.4 percent wage growth
  • “Previous hiring stumbles were not sustained for very long, and the recoveries have been particularly swift as the unemployment rate moved back into more normal territory,” write economists Carl Riccadonna and Yelena Shulyatyeva. “Past performance presents an encouraging case for a solid rebound.”

NatWest Markets

  • 175,000 jobs, 3.8 percent unemployment, 3.4 percent wage growth
  • “While these results would mark another solid performance, the data are unlikely to end the debate on the direction of the next Fed move,” writes Chief U.S. Economist Michelle Girard. Despite February’s smallest payroll gain since September 2017, “we do not believe that labor market conditions have deteriorated that dramatically. Weather may have exacerbated the February weakness.”

Goldman Sachs

  • 190,000 jobs, 3.8 percent unemployment, 3.3 percent wage growth
  • “While we believe the trend in job growth has slowed from last year’s strong pace, renewed declines in jobless claims and the resilience in business surveys suggest that the trend remains nicely above potential,” writes economist Spencer Hill. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is the most accurate payrolls forecaster in Bloomberg’s latest quarterly ranking.

Jefferies

  • 195,000 jobs, 3.8 percent unemployment, 3.4 percent wage growth
  • “Payrolls will rebound after the anemic February data,” writes Chief Financial Economist Ward McCarthy. “The outlier effect also needs to be viewed in the context of the typical pattern for March payrolls. March payroll growth has tended to be moderate, and there have been periodic downside surprises.”

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