Nonfarm Payroll: What It Is and Its Effect On the Markets

By Brian O'Connell · October 27, 2022 · 6 minute read

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Nonfarm Payroll: What It Is and Its Effect On the Markets

The nonfarm payroll report measures the number of jobs added or lost in the United States. The report is released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), usually on the first Friday of every month, and is closely watched by economists, market analysts, and traders. The nonfarm payroll report can have a significant impact on financial markets. A strong jobs report may lead to higher stock prices as investors feel confident about the direction of the economy. A weak jobs report may have the opposite effect, as investors become concerned about the health of the economy.

The nonfarm payroll report is just one of many economic indicators that investors can use to gauge the economy’s strength. However, market participants often pay attention because it provides a monthly snapshot of the U.S. economy’s health.

What Are Nonfarm Payrolls?

Nonfarm payrolls are a key economic indicator that measures the number of Americans employed in the United States, excluding farm workers and some other U.S. workers, including certain government employees, private household employees, and non-profit organization workers.

Also known as “the jobs report,” the nonfarm payrolls report looks at the jobs gained and lost during the previous month. This monthly data release provides investors with an understanding of the health of the labor market and the economy as a whole.

The US Nonfarm Payroll Report, Explained

The nonfarm payroll report is one of two surveys conducted by the BLS that tracks U.S. employment in a data release known as the Employment Situation report. These two surveys are:

•   The Establishment Survey. This survey provides details on nonfarm payroll employment, tracking the number of job additions by industry, the average number of hours worked, and average hourly earnings. This survey is the basis for the reported total nonfarm payrolls added each month.

•   The Household Survey. This survey breaks down the employment numbers on a demographic basis, studying the jobs rate by race, gender, education, and age. This survey is the basis for the monthly unemployment rate reported each month.

When Is the NFP Released?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics usually releases the nonfarm payrolls report on the first Friday of every month at 8:30 am ET. The BLS releases the Establishment Survey and Household Survey together as the Employment Situation report, which covers the labor market of the previous month.

4 Figures From the NFP Report to Pay Attention To

Investors look specifically at several figures within the jobs report:

1. The Unemployment Rate

The unemployment rate is critical in assessing the economic health of the U.S., and it’s a factor in the Federal Reserve’s assessment of the nation’s labor market and the potential for a future recession. A rising unemployment rate could result in economic policy adjustments – like changes in interest rates that impact stocks, both domestically and globally.

Higher-than-expected unemployment could push investors away from stocks and toward assets that they consider more safe, such as Treasuries, potentially triggering a decline in the stock market.

2. Employment Sector Activity

The nonfarm payroll report also examines employment activity in specific business sectors like construction, manufacturing, or healthcare. Any significant rise or fall in sector employment can impact financial market investment decisions on a sector-by-sector basis.

3. Average Hourly Wages

Investors may consider average hourly pay a barometer of overall U.S. economic health. Rising wages may indicate stronger consumer confidence and a more robust economy. That scenario could lead to a rising stock market. However, increased average hourly wages may also signify future inflation, which could cause investors to sell stocks as they anticipate interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.

Investors may take a weaker hourly wage figure as a negative sign, reducing their stock market positions and seeking shelter in the bond market or buying gold as a hedge against a declining U.S. economy.

4. Revisions in the Nonfarm Payroll Report

Nonfarm payroll figures, like most economic data, are dynamic in nature and change all the time. Thus, investors watch any revisions to previous nonfarm payroll reports to reevaluate their own portfolios based on changing employment numbers.

How Does NFP Affect the Markets?

Nonfarm payrolls can affect the markets in a few ways, depending on the state of the economy and financial markets.

NFP and Stock Prices

If nonfarm payrolls are unexpectedly high or low, it can give insight into the economy’s future direction. A strong jobs report may signal that the economy is improving and that companies will have increased profits, leading to higher stock prices. Conversely, a weak jobs report may signal that the economy is slowing down and that company profits will decline, resulting in lower stock prices as investors sell their positions.

NFP and Interest Rates

Moreover, nonfarm payrolls can also affect stock prices by influencing the interest rate environment. A strong jobs report may lead the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to prevent an overheated labor market or curb inflation, leading to a decline in stock prices. Conversely, a weak jobs report may lead the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates unchanged or even lower them, creating a loose monetary policy environment that can boost stock prices.

Investors create a strategy based on how they think markets will behave in the future, so they attempt to factor their projections for jobs report numbers into the price of different types of investments. An unexpected jobs report, however, could prompt them to change their strategy. Surprise numbers can create potentially significant market movements in critical sectors like stocks, bonds, gold, and the U.S. dollar, depending on the monthly release numbers.

How to Trade the Nonfarm Payroll Report

While long-term investors typically do not need to pay attention to any single jobs report, those who take a more active investing approach may want to adjust their strategy based on new data about the economy. If you fall into the latter camp, you’ll typically want to make sure that the report is a factor you consider, though not the only one.

You’ll want to look at other economic statistics and the technical and fundamental profiles of individual securities you’re planning to buy or sell. Then, you’ll want to devise a strategy that you’ll execute based on your research, your expectations about the jobs report, and whether you believe it indicates a bull or a bear market ahead.

For example, suppose you expect the nonfarm payroll report to be positive, with robust job growth. In that case, you might consider adding stocks to your portfolio, as share prices tend to rise more than other investment classes after good economic news. If you believe the nonfarm payroll report will be negative, you may consider more conservative investments like bonds or bond funds, which tend to perform better when the economy slows down.

Or, you might take a more long-term approach, taking the opportunity to buy stocks at a discount and invest while the market is down.

The Takeaway

Markets move after nonfarm payroll reports, but long-term investors don’t have to change their portfolio after every new government data release. That said, active investors may use the jobs report as one factor in creating their investment strategy.

Whatever your strategy, a great way to build and maintain your financial portfolio is with a SoFi Invest® online brokerage account. The SoFi app allows you to trade stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and IPOs. You can get started with an initial investment of as little as $5.

Take a step toward reaching your financial goals with SoFi Invest.

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