No matter which way the next jobs report turns out, it won't have an immediate impact on stocks. That's because the March nonfarm payrolls report will be released on Good Friday, a day on which the stock market will be closed.
Nevertheless, the latest jobs report is as highly anticipated as always. A squeaky-tight labor market has been all but forcing the Federal Reserve to maintain its aggressive policy on interest rates. Nevermind that rising rates precipitated a crisis in regional bank stocks and are having their intended effect of retarding economic growth.
To recap: the January jobs report and February jobs report both greatly exceeded economists' and market participants' expectations. Another blowout jobs report is not what traders or investors want to see. And whichever way the payrolls, wages and unemployment rate figures go, they will certainly have an impact on what the central bank decides to do at the next Fed meeting.
For the record, economists, on average, are looking for the creation of 239,000 jobs in March, or the lowest pace of payroll expansion in three months.
"The March reading would probably signal the nearing slowdown in the labor market as it normalizes after the pandemic shocks and as high borrowing costs and prices force companies to cut costs," notes Trading Economics. "Still, the figure would remain above the 183,000 monthly average between 2010 and 2019, and 100,000 per month, considered necessary to keep up with increase in the working-age population."
The unemployment rate is forecast to remain unchanged at 3.6%, a 50-year low. Wages are projected to rise 0.3%, up from the 0.2% wage growth seen in February. Annual wage growth rate is expected to slip to 4.3% from 4.6% last month.
For insight on what to expect from the March jobs report, below please find a selection of commentary from economists and strategists, sometimes edited for brevity or clarity.
March jobs report: the experts weigh in
"Nonfarm payrolls (on Good Friday) could moderate to 240,000 after a stunning 815,000 increase in the first two months of the year. The still above-normal job gain should hold the unemployment rate at 3.6%, assuming a further uptick in the labor force participation rate. The tight job market should keep average hourly earnings cruising in the 4% to 5% year-over-year range." – Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets
"We are optimistic that the employment report will come in less than the consensus forecast, but even more importantly that average wage growth will come in lower than expectations. We think the effect of the banking debacle still has not impacted employment. But this honeymoon will end as soon as the second quarter. Thus, if somehow this March came in like a lion, April will exit like a lamb. Given the dramatic decline in bond yields recently, some weakness is priced in, so we don't think a 'miss' will have a major effect on the bond market. We also don't think the employment report will be so weak to signal the recession has already started, so we don't think stocks will either plummet or skyrocket on Monday." – Rhys Williams, chief strategist at Spouting Rock Asset Management
"The changes to the initial jobless claims' seasonal factors changes the recent narrative for this series and makes the case that the U.S. labor market has been weakening since the beginning of February of this year, something that was not the case with the previous seasonal factors. Although this narrative is not good for the U.S. economy and for the labor market, it is good news for the Federal Reserve, which has continued to increase interest rates to slow down employment growth." – Eugenio Alemán, chief economist at Raymond James
"Despite headlines of widespread layoffs at large corporations, they have really begun to register in the actual numbers just yet. A stronger-than-expected report on Friday would likely send treasury yields higher as the markets revise up their rate hike expectations." – Collin Martin, Fixed Income Strategist (corporate bonds) at Charles Schwab
"We expect nonfarm payroll employment to rise 250,000 in March, somewhat slower than February's 311,000 pace, with average hourly earnings rising 0.3% month-over-month (4.3% year-over-year). On the household side, we look for the unemployment rate to hold steady at 3.6%, with the participation rate also moving sideways. We forecast that nonfarm payroll employment gains will slow to +250,000 in March from +504,000 and +311,000, respectively, in January and February." – Marc Giannoni, chief U.S. economist at Barclays
"This week U.S. payrolls will help indicate how tight the labor market remains and how resilient companies have been to the rapid rate hiking cycle. We see wage pressures contributing to persistent inflation." – Wei Li, global chief investment strategist at BlackRock Investment Institute
"Incorporating updated information on initial jobless claims, we have revised our forecast for March nonfarm payrolls to 190,000 from 210,000. Please note, our forecasts for the March unemployment rate and average hourly earnings (month-over-month) remain the same at 3.5% and 0.3%, respectively." – Jay Bryson, chief economist at Wells Fargo Economics
Dan Burrows is Kiplinger's senior investing writer, having joined the august publication full time in 2016.
A long-time financial journalist, Dan is a veteran of SmartMoney, MarketWatch, CBS MoneyWatch, InvestorPlace and DailyFinance. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Consumer Reports, Senior Executive and Boston magazine, and his stories have appeared in the New York Daily News, the San Jose Mercury News and Investor's Business Daily, among other publications. As a senior writer at AOL's DailyFinance, Dan reported market news from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and hosted a weekly video segment on equities.
Once upon a time – before his days as a financial reporter and assistant financial editor at legendary fashion trade paper Women's Wear Daily – Dan worked for Spy magazine, scribbled away at Time Inc. and contributed to Maxim magazine back when lad mags were a thing. He's also written for Esquire magazine's Dubious Achievements Awards.
In his current role at Kiplinger, Dan writes about equities, fixed income, currencies, commodities, funds, macroeconomics, demographics, real estate, cost of living indexes and more.
Dan holds a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College and a master's degree from Columbia University.
Disclosure: Dan does not trade stocks or other securities. Rather, he dollar-cost averages into cheap funds and index funds and holds them forever in tax-advantaged accounts.
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