Trading the Nonfarm Payroll Report

The nonfarm payroll (NFP) report is a key economic indicator for the United States and represents the total number of paid workers in the U.S. excluding those employed by farms, the federal government, private households, and nonprofit organizations.

The nonfarm payroll report consistently causes one of the largest rate movements of any news announcement in the foreign exchange (forex) market. As a result, many analysts, traders, funds, investors, and speculators anticipate the NFP number and the impact that it will have on forex.

The NFP report is typically released on the first Friday of each month, providing the total monthly increase or decrease in paid U.S. workers across most businesses. Increasing numbers may show economic expansion but may also give investors reason to be concerned about inflation and decreasing numbers suggest a broader economic concern.

Key Takeaways

  • Nonfarm payrolls (NFPs) are an important economic indicator related to employment in the U.S.
  • Data released on NFPs can be a catalyst for trade in foreign exchange trades based on changes in employment.
  • Technical analysis can be employed in the NFP report using 5 or 15-minute chart intervals.

What Does Nonfarm Payroll Mean?

Analyzing the Nonfarm Report Numbers

There are three ways to analyze the U.S. nonfarm payroll number:

  • A higher payroll figure is generally good for the U.S. economy citing more job additions and more robust economic growth. Forex traders and investors look for a positive addition of at least 100,000 jobs per month. Any release above that figure or the estimated consensus will help to fuel U.S. dollar gains.
  • An expected change in payroll figures causes a mixed reaction in the currency markets. Forex investors anticipating a change in the NFP report will turn to other subcomponents and items to gain some sort of direction or insight, including the unemployment rate and manufacturing payroll subcomponent. If the unemployment rate drops or manufacturing payrolls rise, currency traders will side with a stronger dollar, which is a positive for the U.S. economy. If the unemployment rate increases and manufacturing jobs decline, investors will pass on the U.S. dollar for other currencies.
  • A lower employment picture is negative for the world’s largest economy and the greenback. If the NFP report shows a decline below 100,000 jobs or less, the U.S. economy is likely stagnant and forex traders will favor higher-yielding currencies against the U.S. dollar.

Trading on News Releases

Trading on news releases can be very profitable, but volatile. It is possible to wait for wide rate swings to subside when traders can capitalize on the real market move after the early speculators have taken profits or losses.

The release of the NFP report generally occurs on the first Friday of every month at 8:30 a.m. EST and creates a favorable environment for active traders providing a near guarantee of a tradable move following the announcement.

As with all aspects of trading, profit is not ensured so approaching the trade from a logical standpoint, based on how the market is reacting, can provide more consistent results than simply anticipating the directional movement that the event will cause.

What Is the NFP Trading Strategy?

The NFP report generally affects all major currency pairs, but one of the favorites among traders is the British pound/U.S. dollar (GBP/USD). Because the forex market is open 24 hours a day, all traders can trade on the news event.

Once the market has digested the information’s significance and initial swings, investors will enter a trade in the direction of the dominating momentum and a signal indicating that the market has chosen a direction. This avoids jumping in too early and decreases the probability of being whipsawed out of the market before it has chosen a direction.

The Rules

The strategy can be traded off of five- or 15-minute charts. For the rules and examples below, a 15-minute chart will be used, although the same rules apply to a five-minute chart. Signals may appear in different time frames, so remain consistent with one another.

  1. Nothing is done during the first bar after the NFP report (8:30 to 8:45 a.m. in the case of the 15-minute chart).
  2. The bar created from 8:30 to 8:45 a.m. will be wide-ranging. Traders wait for an inside bar to occur after this initial bar (it does not need to be the very next bar). In other words, they are waiting for the most recent bar’s range to be entirely inside the previous bar’s range.
  3. This inside bar’s high and low rates set up your potential trade triggers. When a subsequent bar closes above or below the inside bar, market participants take a trade in the direction of the breakout. They can also enter a trade as soon as the bar moves past the high or low without waiting for the bar to close. Whichever method you choose, stick to it.
  4. Place a 30-pip stop on the trade you entered.
  5. Choose a maximum of two trades. If both get stopped out, don’t re-enter. The inside bar’s high and low are used again for a second trade if needed.
  6. The target is a time target. Generally, most movement occurs within four hours of the report's release. Thus, traders exit four hours after their entry time. A trailing stop is an alternative if traders wish to stay in the trade.


Feb. 6, 2009. GBP/USD 15-minute chart. Time is GMT. Image by Sabrina Jiang © Investopedia 2020

Looking at the chart above, the vertical line marks the 8:30 a.m. EST (1:30 p.m. GMT) release of the NFP report. As seen from the chart, there are three bars, or 45 minutes, of back-and-forth action following the release. During this time, traders do not trade until they see an inside bar. The inside bar has a square around it on the chart. This bar’s price range is fully contained by the previous bar. Traders will enter when a bar closes higher or lower than the inside bar. The next bar’s close is circled, as that is their entry; it closed above the inside bar’s high. Their stop is 30 pips below the entry price, which is marked by a solid black horizontal bar.

Because their entry occurred around 9:45 a.m. EST (2:45 p.m. GMT), they will close out their position four hours later. By entering the trade at 1.4670 and exiting four hours later at 1.4820, 150 pips were captured while risking only 30 pips. However, it should be noted that not every trade will be this profitable.

Strategy Pitfalls

While this strategy can be very profitable, it has some pitfalls to be aware of. The market may move aggressively in one direction and thus may be beginning to fade by the time an investor gets an inside bar signal. In other words, if a strong move occurs before the inside bar, it is possible that a move could extinguish before a signal. During high volatility times, rates can reverse quickly even after waiting for a pattern to set up. This is why it is essential to have a stop in place.

What Is the Nonfarm Payroll Report?

Nonfarm payrolls (NFPs) are the measure of the number of workers in the United States excluding farm workers and workers in a handful of other job classifications. This is measured by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which surveys private and government entities throughout the U.S. about their payrolls. The BLS reports the nonfarm payroll numbers to the public every month through the closely followed Employment Situation report.

What Impact Does a Higher Nonfarm Payroll Have on the Foreign Exchange (Forex) Market?

The monthly nonfarm payroll report from the BLS can have a substantial impact on foreign exchange (forex) markets when the numbers are released on the first Friday morning of a new month. That’s because traders are always monitoring indicators to identify trends in economic growth, and some of the most-watched economic indicators include inflation, housing starts, gross domestic product, and the monthly payroll report, which contains a variety of data and statistics regarding the U.S. employment situation.

When Does the Nonfarm Payroll Report Come Out?

Nonfarm payroll reports are released at 8:30 a.m. EST on the first Friday of every month.

The Bottom Line

The logic behind the strategy of trading on the NFP report is based on waiting for a small consolidation, the inside bar after the initial volatility of the report has subsided and the market is choosing which direction it will go. By controlling risk with a moderate stop, you are poised to make a potentially large profit from a huge move that almost always occurs each time the NFP report is released.

Investopedia does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment Situation Summary.”

  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment Situation Summary.”

  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Release Calendar.”

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