US employment report gives green light to Fed rate rise

Unemployment rate steady at seven-and-a-half-year low of 5 per cent

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 December, 2015, 9:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 December, 2015, 9:51pm

US job growth increased solidly last month in a show of the economy’s resilience, which most likely paves the way for the US Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this month for the first time in nearly a decade.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 211,000 last month, the Labour Department said on Friday. September and October data was revised to show 35,000 more jobs than previously reported.

The unemployment rate held at a seven-and-a-half-year low of 5 per cent, even as people returned to the labour force in a sign of confidence in the jobs market. The jobless rate is in a range many Fed officials see as consistent with full employment and has dropped seven-tenths of a percentage point this year.

The closely watched employment report came a day after Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen struck an upbeat note on the economy when she testified before lawmakers, describing how it had largely met the criteria the US central bank has set for the Fed’s first rate increase since June 2006.

Yellen said the economy needed to create just under 100,000 jobs a month to keep up with growth in the working age population. The Fed’s policy-setting committee will meet from December 15 to 16.

The second month of strong job gains should allay fears the US economy has hit a soft patch

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast nonfarm payrolls rising 200,000 last month and the unemployment rate steady at 5.0 per cent.

The second month of strong job gains should allay fears the US economy has hit a soft patch, after reports showing tepid consumer spending in October and a slowdown in services industry growth in November. Manufacturing contracted in November for the first time in three years.

Though wage growth slowed last month, economists say that was mostly payback for October’s outsized gains, which were driven by a calendar quirk. Anecdotal evidence, as well as data on labour-related costs, suggests that tightening job market conditions are starting to put upward pressure on wages.

Average hourly earnings increased 0.2 per cent from 0.4 per cent in October. That lowered the year-on-year reading to 2.3 per cent from 2.5 per cent in October.

Other labour market measures that Fed officials are eyeing as they consider lifting the benchmark overnight interest rate from near zero were mixed.

The labour force participation rate, or the share of working-age Americans who are employed or at least looking for a job, rose to 62.5 per cent from a near 38-year low of 62.4 per cent.

A broad measure of joblessness that includes people who want to work but have given up searching and those working part-time because they cannot find full-time employment rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 9.9 per cent.

Employment gains in November were broad-based, though manufacturing shed 1,000 positions and mining lost 11,000 jobs.

Manufacturing has been crippled by a strong US dollar, efforts by businesses to reduce bloated inventory and spending cuts by energy companies scaling back well drilling and exploration in response to sharply lower oil prices.

Mining employment has declined by 123,000 since reaching a peak in December 2014. Three quarters of the job losses over this period have been in support activities for mining.

Oilfield services provider Schlumberger this week announced another round of job cuts in addition to 20,000 layoffs already reported this year. The company said it expected the slowdown in drilling activity to continue in 2016.