Why ADP and Moody’s numbers suggest a weak jobs report

Market Realist

The ADP National Employment Report is a monthly preview of the Labor Department’s Jobs Report

Automatic Data Processing (or ADP) is a global provider of business outsourcing. It provides a range of services, from human resources to payroll. The “ADP National Employment Report” is published monthly by the ADP Research Institute. It provides a snapshot of the current non-farm private sector payroll data based on actual transactional payroll data. ADP collaborates with Moody’s (MCO) to predict the Bureau of Labor Statistics payroll numbers.

Interestingly, the ADP employment report provides a very tight correlation with the BLS’s revised payroll numbers. The BLS revises its payroll data twice, and the ADP number comes out before the first estimate. The BLS’s first estimate is based on roughly 70% of the establishments sampled. The second revision includes another 20% and the final revision adds another 4%. Since ADP’s numbers are based on live payroll data, they’re more accurate than the BLS’s first pass at the numbers.

The ADP payroll data will correspond with the BLS’s private non-farm job numbers. The non-farm payroll number will include public sector jobs, which must be subtracted out to make an apples-to-apples comparison with the ADP report.

Highlights of the report

Private sector employment increased by 139,000 in February. January’s numbers were revised downward from 175,000 to 127,000. In terms of industries, professional and business services increased the most, by 33,000, while financial employment decreased yet again.

Services increased 120,000, while goods-producing companies added 19,000. This is interesting, given that the ISM manufacturing report was stronger than the ISM non-manufacturing report. Small businesses accounted for 59,000 of the increase, while medium and large businesses contributed 35,000 and 44,000, respectively. Overall, the report shows that the job market continues to expand, but the rate of expansion has moderated since the beginning of the year. Mark Zandi of Moody’s mentioned weather-related issues may have depressed the number.

Implications for mortgage REITs

Mortgage REITs like American Capital (AGNC), Annaly (NLY), Hatteras (HTS), and Capstead (CMO) have been at the mercy of the bond market sell-off that began last spring. For them, it’s all about the end of quantitative easing (or QE). The current environment of increasing interest rates and a strengthening economy benefits non-agency REITs, like Two Harbors (TWO), the most.

Rising interest rates lower the value of fixed-income assets—especially mortgage-backed securities. When rates rise, REITs take capital losses on their portfolios, and because they use leverage (in other words, they fund their portfolios through borrowed money), any changes in asset prices have an outsized effect on their equity. If the payroll numbers on Friday come in better than expected, a further sell-off in bonds could raise interest rates further as investors bet on recovery and the end of quantitative easing. This would be negative for REITs. Investors who want to take directional bets on interest rates should look at the iShares 20 year Treasury ETF (TLT).

To learn more about investing in REITs, see the Market Realist series Why January 2014 spending and incomes drive REITs and builders.

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