University of Tennessee

Haslam Alum Nails Employment Numbers Twice in One Year

October 15, 2015

Twice in the past year, Justin Lester (HCB ’03) has correctly guessed the monthly increase in nonagricultural American jobs.

CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” holds a contest on Twitter called #nailthenumber asking people to tweet their monthly nonfarm payrolls guess. In November of 2014 and June of this year, Lester, a Haslam finance graduate, was the only person in the nation to win.

Lester, who works at an investment advisory firm in Kingsport, Tennessee, claims that his professional expertise has no bearing on his success in predicting the number. “It’s pure guess,” Lester said. “I don’t have any models per say. I think about the context of the time of year and how the economy’s trending and make an educated guess.”

The nonfarm payroll number is intended to represent the total number of paid workers in the United States. It is used primarily by the Federal Reserve as a benchmark for determining the unemployment rate and the strength of the economy.

While the number does not have a daily effect on Lester’s work, it does demonstrate overall trends and can impact some currencies and fixed income products.

“We look at individual companies and do our research on them,” Lester said. “The nonfarm payroll is more of a macro number.”

Lester has been on national television twice for his wins and received merchandise autographed by CNBC personalities for his prizes. He and his wife, Leanne Lester (HCB ’06), have three children.