Most economists are predicting modest gains in the job market when Statistics Canada comes out with July's Labour Force Survey on Friday. Then again, the way recent months have gone, it's anybody's guess.
In March, Statscan reported that 55,000 jobs were lost across the country. Only two months later, the survey recorded a whopping 95,000 new payrolls for May. In the last report, for the month of June, there was almost no change at all.
"The monthly data [have] become so volatile that your odds are worse than at a casino game in terms of trying to get close" with an estimate, said Avery Shenfeld, chief economist for CIBC.
It's unlikely that the national job market is as up-and-down as Statscan's numbers suggest. But no one seems to know what's behind the recent volatility.
Mr. Shenfeld speculated that it could just be "statistical noise associated with taking a survey sample and grossing it up for the population as a whole." The monthly numbers come with a large margin of error. For example, the May number – the one that boasted of 95,000 jobs created – could have been off by as many as 53,400, 19 times out of 20.
However, when the monthly numbers are averaged over a longer period of time, the underlying pace of job creation is fairly consistent, noted Francis Fong, an economist with Toronto-Dominion Bank.
Most economists are predicting that Statistics Canada will record between 12,000 and 18,000 new jobs for July. A slight increase to payrolls would leave the employment rate unchanged at 7.1 per cent.
"The negative, really, is that economic growth hasn't been a barnburner, so the need to take on workers in some sectors isn't that pressing," said Mr. Shenfeld. "In particular, the public sector is gradually shrinking in response to deficit reduction."
But there were a few positives for the month, noted Mr. Shenfeld.
The end of the Quebec construction strike and the cleanup efforts for the Alberta floods are likely to give the job numbers a boost, he said.
Mr. Fong agrees that the end of the labour unrest in Quebec is a positive, but Alberta remains a wild card, he said.
"You have a lot of things going on related to the Alberta flooding and what kind of impact that had," he said. "The lack of hiring that resulted from that will probably be offset by a short-term boost related to the reconstruction efforts, so that impact is actually quite uncertain."
Sal Guatieri, senior economist at Bank of Montreal's capital markets group, doesn't think either of those events will have much of an impact on the jobs numbers.
"The flooding subsided before the survey was undertaken and the strike ended early in the month," noted Mr. Guatieri.
Then there is the impact the U.S. economy will have. While its job numbers for July came in slightly under expectations at 162,000, "I don't think it really changes the story for the U.S. economy," said Dawn Desjardins, assistant chief economist with RBC.
"We do think that the U.S. economy is looking stronger – that the underlying fundamentals in that economy are now showing some upward momentum, which is a welcome relief."
The pickup south of the border she said is likely to spur demand for Canadian exports and have a positive impact on domestic job numbers in the latter half of the year.