With official jobs data seen as a key economic metric, no wonder other agencies second-guess them. But ‘guess’ is about right
The government reported 165,000 new jobs created according April’s nonfarm payroll numbers (176,000 in total in the private sector) – a pleasant surprise to most economists, who were anticipating fewer. Part of the reason that expectations were off was because the Automatic Data Processing (ADP) jobs report predicted that only 119,000 would be created, an apparent error of 57,000. Why is this discrepancy a big deal?
Jobs reports used to be exciting only for economists and stockbrokers, but since the election season, every political junkie and their dog seems to have taken an interest. People recognize that the economy plays a vital role in deciding votes; these reports, therefore, offer a vital clue to predicting the politicians’ election chances. So, now we have both the economic and political class yearning for 8.30am on the first Friday of the month, all to learn about the jobs numbers.
But as in so many arenas in America, people can’t wait to see what happens. They race to get the answer as quickly as they can, picking up on whatever clues they deem fit. Enter the ADP jobs report, a jobs survey released two days before the official Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) government report. Many use the ADP to predict the BLS, but past ADP surveys have sometimes been far off actual BLS results. As Steven Russolillo noted in September, “some months, it’s spot on; others it’s wildly off base.”
The ADP, hoping to make its data more accurate, made some major changes for its October 2012 report. That month, the ADP started using ADP payroll data, BLS employment data, and the Philadelphia Federal Reserve’s Aruoba-Diebold-Scott Business Conditions Index. As a result, ADP surveyed 62,000 more clients than previously, 2 million more employees, and two more company-size classes and industries. They brought on Moody’s Analytics to replace Macroeconomic Advisers for processing data. To put it mildly, these are not small changes.
Have the adjustments brought ADP any closer to solving the monthly jobs mystery?
To answer this question, I’ve compared ADP forecasts of the past seven months with the same seven-month period last year, and looked at the ADP’s accuracy in predicting final BLS numbers. The BLS produces an initial, second, and final report as it calculates more data, and the data between reports can differ greatly. The ADP wants to land as close as possible to the BLS’s final report, though most attention is usually paid to the initial report.
The past seven months have seen an average difference between the ADP and initial BLS report of 42,286 jobs. (You can see all the data here.) Some months, such as October and November 2012, had errors of under 30,000 jobs, while March and April 2013 saw errors of 57,000 or greater. No month had an initial error of less than 26,000; the error in margin ends up within +/-19,000 of 45,000.
Compared to the same time last year, the average error has, in fact, diminished. Last year, ADP was off by an average error of 55,429 jobs, which is 13,143 jobs greater than their more recent average. This difference, however, is not statistically significant, due to a small sample size (seven observations) and the fact that the old ADP results could sometimes be very accurate.
Last year, three months under the old methods had errors of 17,000 or less, compared to the initial BLS report – far more accurate than any month per the new ADP. The problem for the old ADP was that four months last year had errors of 66,000 or greater, which less accurate than all seven months of the new ADP.
In that light, the new ADP does look better than the old. When it comes to their forecasts and the initial jobs report, we still haven’t seen an error so wrong it makes your eyes pop out. Of course, we haven’t seen stunning accuracy either.
The BLS’s final jobs report, however – what ADP should supposedly be best at predicting – apparently confounds ADP. We see zero consistency in their results. Four out of six final reports (or second report for March 2013, since we don’t have the final one yet) have had errors of 28,000 or less. Two final reports, December 2012 and March 2013, have been within 4,000. November 2012 and February 2013, though, have seen errors of over 120,000 jobs! The old ADP, by comparison, had its biggest miss last year, in January 2012, at 107,000 jobs.
The average error of the new ADP on final BLS reports has been 51,167 jobs, which is actually worse than the ADP’s error on initial BLS reports. It’s better than the average error of 58,333 from last year, but it’s not better by a statistically significant amount.
When you put it all together, I can’t really say that ADP has done better with its new methodology than it did with its old. There are some signs that the changes have made it more accurate – perhaps those huge misses of November 2012 and February 2013 will turn out to be anomalies – but we’ll need a larger sample size to know for sure. But at this point, it looks as likely as ever that the ADP numbers will be way off-the-mark measured against the BLS’s final reports.
The smart bet right now? Have a little patience and wait for the actual government statistics.
Many British Gas customers on a heavily promoted fixed-price deal would have done better on the standard tariff
Thousands of British Gas customers who signed up for one of its fixed-price tariffs two years ago have, in effect, been overpaying for their gas and electricity since then, it has been claimed. In some cases they have paid £800 more than if they had taken a rival deal.
In May 2011 British Gas contacted many of its long-standing customers to offer them a new tariff called Fixed Price March 2013. At the time, the company was just about to increase prices, but offered this deal on the basis that it was more expensive than standard prices, but there would be no hikes until it expired at the end of March.
It was marketed, in particular, to those coming off previous British Gas fixed-price tariffs as offering them peace of mind. But while thousands of other households coming off rival fixed tariffs will soon be paying more for their energy, those who signed up to this particular deal will see their prices fall after being moved on to British Gas’s standard tariff.
With the average household energy bill having risen to an estimated £1,350 a year, and against a backdrop of energy chief executives constantly warning that bills are only set to increase, experts often suggest that the best bet is a fixed-price tariff.
In recent years all the big energy firms have offered fixed-price and guaranteed-discount tariffs in a bid to keep hold of customers. While those on other British Gas fixed tariffs have done well in the past, those unlucky enough to have signed up to this deal have overpaid.
According to an analysis by the switching comparison site TheEnergyShop.com, they have typically paid £480 more than they would have done had they been on the most competitive fixed price tariff offered by rivals.
Those living in households that consume above-average amounts of power could easily have overpaid £800 or more over two years. Had they stayed on the company’s standard tariff they would have still paid less, even though it has seen two price rises in the past two years
Joe Malinowski, founder of TheEnergyShop.com says: “This tariff was sold to British Gas customers who were coming off previous fixed-price deals, but it was a just a terrible deal,” he says. “It was offered at an initial 30% price premium over standard prices but was only available direct from British Gas.
“If your energy company phones telling you it’s got a great new fixed-price deal, it should send alarm bells ringing. Go online and do a comparison, and you may find it’s not quite as good a deal as you were led to believe.”
A spokeswoman for British Gas says: “Fixed-price products are offered to customers to insure against price rises and to guarantee the price they will pay for their energy for a fixed period. Customers can make a choice about the product they decide to buy, and in many cases this will prove to be a better long-term option. But prices can go down, as well as