- The US Labor Department said the American economy added 312,000 nonfarm jobs in December, topping estimates.
- The unemployment rate jumped to 3.9%, and average hourly earnings increased 3.2% from a year earlier.
- The report caps off a robust year of hiring in the US.
The American economy added significantly more jobs than expected and wage gains accelerated at the end of 2018, capping a year of exceptionally robust hiring in the US.
The Labor Department on Friday said 312,000 nonfarm jobs were created in December, the most since February. That flew past estimates for 180,000 and was more than double the 155,000 added in the previous month.
The unemployment rate rose 0.2 percentage points to 3.9% but remained at its lowest level since 2000. Following modest increases of 0.2% in November, average hourly earnings climbed 0.4% last month and 3.2% from a year earlier to post their best gains since February 2009.
Some hoped the employment report could ease concerns about the economy and global financial markets, which have reeled in recent months from a flood of concerns including slowing growth. In the US, equities ended their worst year since 2008 on Monday.
“We expect the December employment report to remind markets that the US growth outlook remains stable despite financial market volatility,” said Lewis Alexander, an analyst at Nomura.
Others worry it may not be enough to move the market. Recent manufacturing and consumer-confidence figures have fanned fears that the nine-year economic expansion is running out of steam, with an increasing number of economists predicting that a recession could begin by 2020.
“To be sure this is a good thing, but if the past few months are any indication, the market isn’t moving on fundamentals: Trade is the alpha and the omega,” said Mike Loewengart, the head of investment strategy at E-Trade.
“Combine this with ongoing trade disputes and a divided government, and there is a menagerie of issues to keep investors up at night.”
On Thursday, a gauge of factory activity in the US fell by the most in a decade. That followed weaker-than-expected manufacturing figures from the eurozone and China, underscoring expectations for other major economies around the world to slow.
Last year was marked by an unexpectedly tight labour market, with the US adding an average of more than 206,182 jobs a month through November.
Another employment report suggesting the US is at full employment would support expectations for the Federal Reserve to continue gradually raising interest rates this year after four hikes in 2018.
“Markets, as usual, are overweighting the importance of the manufacturing sector, whereas the Fed has to act for the whole economy,” said Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “Ultimately, they will do what the labour market data tell them to do, and reports which look anything remotely like this one make it impossible for them to back away from their plans to hike.”
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