U.S. hiring cooled by more than forecast in March following a strong February while wages picked up and the unemployment rate remained the lowest since 2000, returning labor-market progress to a more sustainable pace that may keep Federal Reserve policy makers on track for further interest-rate increases.
Payrolls rose 103,000, compared with the median estimate of economists for 185,000, after an upwardly revised 326,000 advance, Labor Department figures showed Friday. The jobless rate was 4.1 percent for a sixth month, bucking forecasts for a decline, while average hourly earnings increased 2.7 percent from a year earlier, matching projections.
The results follow strong hiring in 2017 and show an average pace of payrolls growth this year that's still sufficient to push down the unemployment rate, which already is below Fed estimates of levels sustainable in the long run. A pickup in wages -- which has remained elusive in this expansion -- would support consumer spending, though some economists worry it may also spark inflation.
“The labor market is continuing to strengthen, and we haven't seen a material shift in that,” Sam Bullard, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC, said before the report. Even when there's a weak payroll number in one month, “the Fed and the markets are going to look through it.”
At the same time, the specter of a trade war with China is a wild card for the outlook, particularly after President Donald Trump raised tensions by ordering his administration to consider imposing tariffs on an additional $100 billion in Chinese imports.
The slowdown in payroll gains reflected reversals in construction and retail. Construction payrolls fell by 15,000 in March, the first decline since July, following a gain of 65,000 in February. Retailers cut 4,400 workers, following a rise of 47,300 in February.
Source : Bloomberg