March 2, 2010 / 7:28 PM / 9 years ago

PREVIEW-Weather to distort U.S. Feb non-farm payrolls data

* WHAT: U.S. February employment report

* WHEN: Friday, March 5 at 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT)

REUTERS FORECASTS:

* The median forecast for non-farm payrolls is for a drop of 50,000 in February after falling 20,000 in January. Forecasts range from a gain of 100,000 to a loss of 150,000 jobs, reflecting an unusual degree of uncertainty associated with forecasting payrolls in a month affected by severe snowstorms.

* The median forecast from the ten most accurate forecasters is for payrolls to fall by 70,000.

* The average work week for all employees is seen slipping to 33.7 hours in February from 33.9 hours in the prior month. The unemployment rate is forecast edging up to 9.8 percent from 9.7 percent. Forecasts range from 9.5 percent to 10 percent.

FACTORS TO WATCH

Severe snowstorms that lashed parts of the country will wreak havoc on economic data, including February’s employment report. The back-to-back blizzards, which paralyzed much of the nation, coincided with the survey week for the February employment report.

Analysts reckon the winter storms prevented many employees from reporting to work. Salaried workers who stayed at home because of the bad weather would still be counted as employed in the Labor Department’s survey of establishments. However, their nonsalaried counterparts who missed work and were not paid would be considered unemployed for that period.

The weather is expected to have severely affected the construction, retail, manufacturing and education sectors. The temporary help segment, which had added employment in recent months, is also expected to have been hit last month.

Drawing parallels with similar-sized snowstorms in January 1996, some analysts believe inclement weather reduced payrolls between 100,000 and 150,000 last month. A big reversal is expected in March. Payrolls in January 1996 fell by 19,000 and rebounded by 434,000 in February.

In addition to being a drag on payrolls, the winter storms also likely reduced the average work week last month, analysts predicted. In the absence of bad weather, some analysts expected no change in payrolls in February, with an upside chance for modest job growth as the government stepped up hiring for the 2010 census.

The weather is not expected to have affected the unemployment rate, which is drawn from a separate survey of households. That survey counts people who say they have jobs as employed, irrespective of whether they went to work during the survey period. The unemployment rate is seen edging up to 9.8 percent after a surprise decline to 9.7 percent in January.

Analysts, and even U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, have cautioned against interpreting the data too much.

MARKET REACTION

Assuming the weather is expected to be a drag on payrolls, U.S. equities are unlikely to experience a large selloff in the event of a worse-than-expected reading. Analysts see support for the Standard & Poor's 500 index .SPX about 1,100 and for the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI at about 10,000.

On Tuesday, the S&P 500 rose 0.6 percent to 1,122, while the Dow added 0.3 percent to 10,436.

A surprise rise in payrolls would undercut the safe-haven appeal of U.S. Treasuries, which could push benchmark 10-year Treasury note yields up to the recent high of 3.83 percent reached in mid-February.

Benchmark yields traded at 3.63 percent on Tuesday. A larger-than-forecast fall in payrolls could push yields down near the recent low of 3.53 percent in early February.

The U.S. dollar stands to benefit from a weak or strong employment report. A weaker-than-expected reading will boost the dollar’s safe-haven allure as risk appetite declines.

With an unexpectedly strong report, investors would start to price in a withdrawal of some of the extraordinary support the Fed has given to the economy and an eventual interest rate hike.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ For payrolls graphic see: link.reuters.com/fef23j ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani in Washington, Jayesh Nathwani in Bangalore and Ryan Vlastelica, Chris Reese and Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss in New York; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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