‘What is everybody else not seeing?’ One top economist details why Friday’s jobs report will double the average forecast – and explains why she’s comfortable being an outlier

Now Hiring man with mask
A man wearing a mask walks past a “now hiring” sign on Melrose Avenue amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 22, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

  • Jefferies’ estimate for April payroll growth is 2.1 million jobs, double the consensus forecast.
  • Economist Aneta Markowska cited time-sheet data, jobless claims, and surveys for her bullish forecast.
  • Reopening and stimulus will play a bigger role in the April report than in March, she added.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ upcoming jobs report is expected to show strong payroll growth through April as the US reopened. But where most economists see a moderate month-over-month improvement, Aneta Markowska of Jefferies stands out in her bullishness.

The median estimate from economists surveyed by Bloomberg for April payroll growth sits at 1 million payrolls. That would mark a pickup from the 916,000 jobs added in March and the strongest month of job growth since August.

Markowska, Jefferies’ chief economist, forecasts that the economy added 2.1 million jobs last month. Not only is that more than double the median forecast, but also 800,000 payrolls greater than the next highest projection from a top economist. The unemployment rate will fall to 5.2% from 6% and beat the forecast of 5.8%, according to the bank.

While Markowska’s estimates stand leagues away from the consensus, the chief economist told Insider she has a tougher time understanding the median forecast than supporting her own.

“To be honest, I’m sort of asking the same question in reverse. What is everybody else not seeing?” Markowska said. “I run a number of models and the lowest one gives me an estimate of 1.4 million.”

Looking to quantitative data, Markowska highlighted changes in jobless claims as supporting growth of more than 1 million payrolls. Kronos data tracking hours worked correlates well with nonfarm payrolls and signals an April gain of 1.6 million jobs, she added.

BLS’ survey timing also backs up Jefferies’ forecast. The March report had little to do with reopening, as the survey window closed on March 13, Markowska said. The April report, due for release Friday morning, should better capture how reopening and Democrats’ stimulus boosted job growth in the leisure, hospitality, and retail sectors, she added.

Still, the hard data only makes up part of Markowska’s projection. Reports like the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and The Conference Board’s own survey point to growth as high as 4 million payrolls, the economist said. Although survey responses are volatile and harder to tie to quantitative data, they support Markowska’s argument for a blowout month of job gains.

“Obviously [3 million] sounds excessive, and I wouldn’t rely on any of those individually. But they certainly give me more confidence that we could get something closer to 2 million,” she said.

Aneta Markowska
Jefferies Chief Economist Aneta Markowska.

Looking beyond April growth and into 2022

Robust hiring could last into the summer, and even though Markowska sees the pace tapering off later in the year, she still expects growth to trend above the pre-pandemic norm. Jefferies’ GDP forecast calls for a 7% expansion in 2021, slightly exceeding the Federal Reserve’s estimate for 6.5% growth. That rate implies average monthly payroll additions of about 500,000 payrolls in the final month of 2021, Markowska said.

The chief economist’s optimism isn’t relegated to 2021. Consensus forecasts see the rate of recovery dropping off in 2022 as stimulus expires and easy gains turn into more modest improvements. But where the Fed expects GDP growth to slow to 3.3% next year, Markowska cited a still-elevated savings rate and expectations for stronger production for her 5% growth forecast.

“There’s still a lot of upside for industrial production. I think, by the middle of the year, you’re going to be looking at capacity utilization rates that match the peaks from the last cycle, and they’re going to keep going,” she said.

“That’s where I really differ: the ability of this economy to sustain a lot of that momentum. Whereas a lot of people see a fiscal cliff happening next year, I think that’s more of a story for 2023.”

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