The case for the U.S. Federal Reserve to raise interest rates later this week may have been sealed by another strong employment report.
The Labor Department said employers added 235,000 jobs in February, well above analysts’ expectations and the average monthly payroll growth for all of last year.
The unemployment rate dropped to 4.7% from 4.8% in January, just a notch above its decade low, while hourly wages for all private-sector workers rose six cents last month on average, but still up from the 5-cent gain the prior month and up 2.8% from February of last year.
“The strength of the labor market is for real,” Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago, told the Los Angeles Times. “From a financial point of view, it’s a great state of affairs. We’re creating more jobs, we’re expanding, and it isn’t being coupled with inflation.”
In the wake of the report, the odds of a March rate increase climbed to more than 90%, up from only 25% at the beginning of February, according to futures contracts monitored by the CME Group’s Fedwatch program.
“Raising rates [this] week is as close to a certainty as you ever get in this business,” Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman, told The Washington Post.
The solid job market has long outperformed the slow-growing economy. But with Donald Trump’s election victory, the Times said, companies in manufacturing and other industries “have become more confident about the outlook since late last year, at least in part because of hopes that tax cuts and other favorable policies will be coming from the new Trump administration and his party that controls Congress.”
Edward Leamer, professor of management, economics and statistics at UCLA, said the acceleration in wage growth indicates that “workers are beginning to share the gains in the economy. We’re starting to see workers have some market power.”
Amid mild winter weather across much of the country, residential and commercial construction employers combined added a 58,000 jobs last month, bringing the industry’s net payroll growth in the first two months to 98,000 — compared to 155,000 for all of last year.