US jobs and wages rose by less than forecast in November while the unemployment rate held at the lowest in almost five decades, indicating some moderation in a still-healthy labor market.
Non-farm payrolls increased by 155,000 after a downwardly revised 237,000 gain in the prior month, a Labor Department report showed on Friday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey called for an increase of 198,000. Average hourly earnings rose 0.2 % from the prior month, compared with forecasts for 0.3%, though wages matched projections on an annual basis, up 3.1% for a second month.
Treasury yields initially dipped and the dollar declined as the report added to signs that economic growth is cooling a bit, following weakness in business-equipment orders and an ebbing of consumer optimism.
While the data may spur more concern over the outlook after stocks and bond yields tumbled this week, some investors may see the prospect of a slower pace of Federal Reserve interest-rate increases as a positive following an expected hike this month, as equity futures rose following the jobs data.
“It’s not like 155,000 is a terrible number, but it’s below what people were looking for,” said Michael Feroli, chief US economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. After an unusually strong two quarters for the economy, “we’re looking for growth to step down this quarter and you should probably also expect to see the labor market cool off some. It’s consistent with the economy coming off what people call a sugar rush.”
For the Fed’s interest-rate hikes, “December is pretty close to a done deal,” Feroli said. “For next year, it depends what the data looks like the next couple of months. It doesn’t feel like things are softening in an alarming way. If it’s really soft, they’ll take a break.”
The jobless rate was unchanged at 3.7% in November, matching estimates. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said late Thursday that the US labor market is “very strong” by many measures and that the economy is “performing very well overall.”
Even so, one key risk is the trade war between the US and China, the world’s two largest economies. While the nations agreed last weekend on a 90-day pause for new tariffs, the accumulated levies and developments have created uncertainty for companies and may weigh on the employment outlook.
Retailers showed solid demand for workers overall, hiring 18,200 people in the month before Christmas; general-merchandise stores added the most employees while clothing and electronics stores cut workers. Transportation and warehousing, a category closely linked to retail, also saw gains of 25,400 in the month.
Construction jobs rose by 5,000, the weakest since a decline in March, as gains cooled among residential specialty trade contractors. Manufacturing remained strong at an increase of 27,000.
The monthly gain in average hourly earnings for all private workers followed a downwardly revised 0.1% increase, the report showed. The annual increase topped 3% for a second month, reflecting how companies are steadily raising pay to attract and retain workers as the availability of workers tightens.
The gains probably still aren’t fast enough, though, to spur concerns of runaway inflation among Fed officials. While the unemployment rate is well below the level that central bankers consider sustainable in the long run, inflation has remained close to the central bank’s target, leading some to question whether the Fed should keep raising interest rates.
Here are other highlights from the report:
Revisions subtracted 12,000 jobs from payrolls in the prior two months, resulting in a three-month average gain of 170,000
Private payrolls rose by 161,000, compared with the median estimate for 198,000; government payrolls decreased by 6,000
Service providers added 132,000 jobs, including 40,100 in health care and social assistance. The 32,000 gain in professional and business services was the smallest since December 2017
Average hourly earnings for production and non-supervisory workers increased 3.2% from a year earlier, following 3.2% in the prior month
The average workweek decreased to 34.4 hours from 34.5 hours in the prior month; a shorter workweek has the effect of boosting average hourly pay
The participation rate was unchanged from the prior month at 62.9%. The measure tracks share of working-age people either with jobs or actively looking
The employment-population ratio, another broad gauge of labor-market health, was unchanged at 60.6%
The U-6, or underemployment rate, rose to 7.6% from 7.4%. This measure includes part-time workers who want a full-time job and people who are less active in seeking work