The most important number in Friday's jobs report: Morning Brief

Friday, December 4, 2020

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Was job growth positive or negative in November?

At 8:30 a.m. ET, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the November jobs report, the final monthly jobs number to be released in 2020.

Ahead of most jobs days, commentators will argue that some overlooked measure within the report — flows from unemployed to employed, prime-age labor force participation, and so on — is the real most important thing to watch for. And indeed, many of these measures help paint a fuller picture of the labor market than headline job gains and the unemployment rate.

But Friday’s report is not one of those reports. The most important number in November’s jobs report will be headline job gains. Specifically: did the economy create or lose jobs last month?

Expectations are that job gains slowed last month, but did not turn negative. Wall Street economists estimate that nonfarm payrolls grew by 475,000 last month while the unemployment rate fell to 6.8%, according to data from Bloomberg. In October, the economy added 638,000 jobs.

But some economists aren’t so confident that this report will show a labor market that is still seeing net job gains. Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist at Oxford Economics, said in a note this week the firm expects the economy lost 60,000 jobs last month, which would be the first decline since April.

“Our Recovery Tracker employment index and the underlying high frequency employment measures signal a marked cooling in labor demand amid the surge in COVID cases,” Bostjancic said in a note published Tuesday. “Large negative seasonal factors will weigh on the payroll count in the state and local sector as well in the private service sector. The employment shortfall relative to pre-COVID levels will remain a sizeable 10.1 million.”

Earlier this week, private payroll data from ADP showed the private sector added back 307,000 jobs in November, the smallest monthly gain since July. And Bostjancic does expect the private sector grew in November, forecasting a gain of 90,000 in the sector. But a loss of 150,000 jobs from the public sector will bring the headline number into negative territory, according to Oxford Economics.

And that headline number will take on heightened importance given the state of stimulus talks in Washington, D.C.

Right now, lawmakers appear to be on the brink of finding common ground on additional fiscal stimulus. And while a gap still remains between what Democrats and Republicans find acceptable, this week has seen the most substantive discussions regarding fiscal action in months.

A poor jobs report could be the tipping point that gets lawmakers to finally agree on additional stimulus that can help the economy bridge the gap between now and the summer months when a COVID vaccine is expected to be widely available.

A strong jobs report, however, might leave us where we’ve been for almost six months — hearing lots of talk about the need for more stimulus while nothing ends up getting done.

By Myles Udland, reporter and anchor for Yahoo Finance Live. Follow him at @MylesUdland

What to watch today


  • 8:30 a.m. ET: Change in Non-farm Payrolls, November (475,000 expected, 638,000 in October)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: Unemployment Rate, November (6.8% expected, 6.9% in October)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: Average Hourly Earnings month-over-month, November (0.1% expected, 0.1% in October)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: Average Hourly Earnings year-over-year, November (4.2% expected, 4.5% in October)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: Trade Balance, October (-$64.8 billion expected, -$63.9 billion in September)

  • 10:00 a.m. ET: Factory Orders, October (0.8% expected, 1.1% in September)

  • 10:00 a.m. ET: Durable Goods Orders, October final (1.3% expected, 1.3% in prior print)

  • 10:00 a.m. ET: Durable Goods Orders Excluding Transportation, October Final (1.3% expected, 1.3% in September)

  • 10:00 a.m. ET: Non-Defense Capital Goods Orders Excluding Aircraft, October Final (0.7% in September)

  • 10:00 a.m. ET: Non-Defense Capital Goods Shipments Excluding Aircraft, October Final (2.3% in September)


  • 6:00 a.m. ET: Big Lots (BIG) is expected to report adjusted earnings of 66 cents per share on revenue of $1.35 billion

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