Those looking for an optimistic early look of this Friday's NFP (nobody cares about the ADP any longer) should probably avoid the Challenger lay off data just released. As Bloomberg summarizes, U.S. planned firings up 59% Y/y in July to 66,414, led by pharma, retail; largest number in 16 months. The number includes Merck’s plan to cut ~13k jobs. This 3rd consecutive increase; “seems to provide additional evidence” recovery has stalled, according to CEO John A. Challenger. New Jersey (where MRK is based) led states, with 13,330 cuts, followed by Michigan. Employers also announced plans to hire 10,706 after prior month’s 15,498: this is just barely better than the lowest number this year printed in May when just 10,248 businesses announced intention to hire, and well off the 72,581 highs in February. Bottom line: subzero NFP print coming?