Net new jobs fell unexpectedly to the lowest level in seven months, with just 160,000 additional jobs generated, over 40,000 less than economists predicted, the Labor Department reported Friday.

AFP/File / Karen Bleier The overall US unemployment rate held at 5.0 percent in April, according to the Labor Department
AFP/File / Karen Bleier
The overall US unemployment rate held at 5.0 percent in April, according to the Labor Department

That was still a strong enough pace to continue absorbing new entrants to the jobs market and bringing down the unemployment rate, which held steady at 5.0 percent, one of the lowest levels among leading economies.

But coming in well below the six-month average of 242,000 jobs, the figure added to concerns that the fall in the pace of overall economic growth to just 0.5 percent during the January-March period could persist through the current quarter.

Analysts said there were enough signs of strength in the fresh data to chalk off April hiring as part of a temporary lull in the economy, including a slight pickup in wage growth and still-strong recruitment in key services sectors.

– June rate hike unlikely –

But they said the April numbers also create room for the Federal Reserve, which has been waiting for more signs of strength to tighten monetary policy, to hold off from raising interest rates in June.

“This is certainly not the unequivocally strong report that the Federal Reserve would have liked to see,” said Harm Bandholz, chief US economist at UniCredit Economics, in a client note.

“By adding to signs that economic weakness is lingering into the second quarter, these disappointing numbers greatly reduce the likelihood of the Fed hiking rates this side of the presidential election” in November, added Markit economist Chris Williamson.

The number of people not in the labor force surged by 562,000 last month, and the labor force participation rate fell by 0.2 percentage point to 62.8 percent, giving up recent gains.

Hiring in April was virtually flat in the important construction sector, which had added 41,000 new jobs in March. The mining sector, including coal, oil and natural gas, continued to bleed jobs, as did government employers.

The retail trade, a strong contributor to growth in the past year, also shed about 3,000 jobs — possibly the consequence of a recent pullback in consumer spending growth that has surprised and worried analysts.

But hiring remained strong in health care and hospitality sectors, and in professional services.

And hourly wage growth picked up pace month-on-month, though it remained just barely higher at 2.5 percent year-on-year.

– ‘Seasonal payback’ –

University of Michigan economist Betsey Stevenson argued however that the April employment data was still as strong as it needs to be.

“We need job growth of roughly 80,000 a month to hold steady, this month was double that. This is pretty rapid growth for five percent unemployment,” she said via Twitter.

Nariman Behravesh, economist at consultancy IHS, called the slower jobs growth “seasonal payback” for the strength earlier in the year.

“Most indicators of the labor market continue to point to ongoing strength,” he argued in a client note, predicting a rebound to 200,000-plus levels.

The markets read the data as putting off a bit the next Fed rate increase, after it raised its benchmark short-term rate to 0.25-0.50 percent in December.

Yields on short-term Treasury notes fell, but were higher in the long-term bonds.

The dollar lost ground slightly against the euro and yen, while US stocks tumbled, with the broad-based S&P 500 losing 0.5 percent in mid-morning trade.

Source: Washington (AFP)

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