Job growth accelerates to 167,000 in December
Average hourly earnings jump 0.5%; jobless rate remains at 4.5%
PrintE-mailDisable live quotesRSSDigg itDel.icio.usBy Rex Nutting, MarketWatch
Last Update: 4:10 PM ET Jan 5, 2007
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- Job growth in the U.S. unexpectedly accelerated in December, with nonfarm payrolls rising by 167,000 and the jobless rate remaining at a very low 4.5%, the Labor Department reported Friday.
Job growth was much stronger than the 100,000 expected, dashing fleeting hopes held by some that the Federal Reserve would cut interest rates soon.
"The underlying recovery remains intact," wrote Steven Wieting, an economist for Citigroup Global Markets, in a note to clients.
"We continue to believe that monetary policy is on hold for the foreseeable future," Joshua Shapiro, chief economist for MFR Inc., wrote in an email following the "solid report."
Bonds and stocks sold off on the news. The odds of a rate cut in the first half of the year fell to 52% from 86% before the data, according to the Chicago Board of Trade's federal funds market. See Market Snapshot.
Job growth in the previous two months was revised higher by a total of 29,000.
Economists had expected job growth to slow from November's upwardly revised 154,000, especially after Wednesday's ADP employment report, which showed a 40,000 decline in private-sector payrolls. See Economic Calendar.
Joel Prakken, president of Macroeconomic Advisers, which computes the ADP index, was unapologetic about the big discrepancy between the ADP and government numbers, saying he wouldn't be surprised if the government's data were revised lower.
"We aren't trying to forecast the initial estimate," Prakken said, "we are trying to get it right."
The government said Friday that payrolls grew by 1.84 million in 2006, an average of 153,000 per month. Revisions to be published next month will likely increase that total significantly.
Growth averaged 136,000 a month in the final quarter of the year. Fed researchers have said the economy needs to add about 100,000 jobs per month to absorb new entrants into the workforce and maintain a steady unemployment rate.
With strong job growth in 2006, the jobless rate fell from 4.9% at the beginning of the year to 4.5%. Read the full release.
Average hourly earnings jumped by 8 cents, or 0.5%, far ahead of the 0.3% rise expected. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased 4.2%, more than double the inflation rate and the fastest growth since late 2000.
With productivity slowing, the acceleration in earnings will keep Fed officials focused on inflationary pressures in the tight labor market. On the other hand, faster wage growth should also support consumer spending, keeping growth on track.
December's job growth came in strong despite losses in three key sectors: Construction, manufacturing and retail.
Construction jobs fell by 3,000 after seasonal adjustment. Residential construction jobs fell by 16,000, but those losses were partially offset by gains in nonresidential construction.
Manufacturing jobs dropped by 12,000 in December, the sixth consecutive decline. In the past year, factory jobs have fallen by 72,000. The losses in December were concentrated in autos, primary metals and textiles. Of 84 manufacturing industries, 44.6% were adding jobs in December.
"This is terrible news," said Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital. "The problems of the U.S. economy are just getting worse. We destroyed 12,000 goods-producing jobs."
Retail firms cut 9,000 jobs after seasonal adjustment. Retail jobs fell by 58,000 in 2006.
Jobs were added in most every other sector. Of 278 industries, 58.6% were adding jobs in December.
Job growth was strong in professional services, which added 50,000 workers in December and 420,000 in all of 2006.
Health care added 31,000 jobs in December and 324,000 in the year.
Employment in food services increased by 23,000 in December and 304,000 for the year.
In the separate survey of households, the government reported employment gains of 303,000 in December and an increase in unemployment of 23,000 to 6.85 million. In 2006, the household survey indicated job growth of 3.14 million.
The labor-force participation rate (the percentage of adults working or looking for work) rose to 66.4% from 66.3%. The employment-population ratio (the percentage of adults working) rose to 63.4% from 63.2%. That's the highest employment rate since September 2001.
Rex Nutting is Washington bureau chief of MarketWatch.