December Non-Farm Payrolls Instant Insight

I was one of the few analysts calling for a potential rebound in non-farm payrolls in the month of December (Non-Farm Payrolls Preview: Could We See a Rebound) and that was exactly what we saw this morning. 524k jobs were lost in the US economy, which is modestly better than the -586k revised loss for November. In the past 5 decades, we have seen a rebound every single time job losses topped 500k, and this time it was no different. The employment component of service sector ISM which rebounded last month has once again proved to be one of the most reliable leading indicators for NFP. We have a service based economy and the rebound in the employment component of ISM was a strong signal that we could see a rebound in payrolls. However, the rebound is far more modest than what we have seen in the past and the unemployment rate jumped from 6.8 to 7.2 percent, is the highest level in close to 15 years.

Despite the better than expected number, if you need proof that the US economy is in bad shape, the latest non-farm payrolls report certainly provides it. In the course of 2 months, more than a million Americans lost their jobs, totaling 2.485 million jobs lost in 2008.

We will probably not see the new assault on the US dollar that traders were expecting since NFPs matched expectation, but in the long run the data is nothing to cheer about. An unemployment rate of 7 percent was the big number that everyone was focusing on now that the unemployment rate has exceeded that level, it will force more creative measures of stimulus from the Federal Reserve.

Rebound is a Precursor to More Losses

We have just endured one of the worst strings of job losses that this generation has ever seen and unfortunately the pain will continue. Companies are tightening their belts and are in survival mode. Alcoa and Intel have already announced layoffs. Fourth quarter and first quarter earnings will be very weak. To shore up their stock prices and plan for a recovery, many companies may be forced to announce more layoffs.

The US is in recession and in previous recessions, job cuts have lasted for at least 15 months. So far, we have only seen 12 consecutive months of job losses which means that non-farm payrolls will not turn positive until the second half of the year.

There was nothing good report as the pace of job losses in the manufacturing sector accelerated while average weekly hours and earnings declined.



  1. Really enjoy your blog, Kathy. Read all your posts and it certainly has helped in my trading. Just curious about the two consecutive months over 500k. This seems to have no precedent. Either January will see a drop which will follow the pattern, or January’s NFP could go up, proving that two negatives do make even a bigger negative. I work as an Executive Recruiter and I have a feeling that all the companies that tried not to lay off at the end of the year, may be forced to do so now. Looking for some light at the end of the tunnel, though.

  2. I also can’t really call this figure a rebound, seems an odd thing to say?

    This idea of waves of lay-offs must correspond to common reasons such as the one Kathy mentioned (pre bonus sacking) in some industries/roles. So you expect the Jan figure has a good chance of a much better than -500K reading because this month has no common reason to be an attractive month to sack staff?

    I get the impression all industries are really suffering right now, and most of the recovery initiatives are not going to start to make a difference for a quarter or two to come. Perhaps this year, any big drops in NFP’s is more likely to be just a quiet spot in a stampede.

    I think it very likely, even in less broad employment areas like the UK, the unemployment is going to get steadily worse, making any talk of rebound number merely a trigger for discussion and some short lived market action.

    Which brings me to my current reason for loosing sleep: How to predict and trade the US Dollar.


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