March job growth strong, jobless rate falls
By Glenn Somerville
Friday, April 6, 2007; 4:12 PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. employers added a stronger-than-expected 180,000 new jobs in March and the unemployment rate fell to a five-month low, implying the economy remains durable despite a slowdown in housing.
Friday's intently awaited report on hiring from the Labor Department also showed job growth was stronger in both January and February than previously thought.
The March unemployment rate dropped to 4.4 percent from 4.5 percent in February, its lowest level since a matching 4.4 percent in October.
The last time the unemployment rate was lower was nearly six years ago, in May 2001 when it touched 4.3 percent.
Analysts said the job figures implied the economy was on its way toward a successful "soft landing" in which growth slows enough to contain inflation but does not sink into a punishing downturn.
"The healthy data again hints at limited housing contagion spreading through the economy," said Alan Ruskin, chief international strategist for RBS Greenwich Capital in Greenwich, Conn..
He added that "even allowing for monthly noise (it) is likely to play further against expectations of Fed (Federal Reserve) easing in the late summer and beyond."
There were soft spots, with manufacturers shedding another 16,000 jobs in March and information-processing industries dropping 5,000.
But interest rate futures showed the market perceived less chance of an interest rate cut in the near future, with the implied probability of a cut in June falling to 12 percent from 20 percent before the jobs data was released.
Stock markets were closed for the Good Friday holiday but U.S. Treasury bond prices fell on reduced prospects for interest-rate reductions.
The bond market closed early at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) but the benchmark 10-year note <US10YT=RR> traded 18/32 lower in price to yield 4.76 percent compared with 4.68 percent late on Thursday.
Five year-notes <US5YT=RR> fell 14/32 and their yield climbed to 4.67 percent from 4.57 percent late on Thursday, while 30-year bonds <US30YT=RR> traded 23/32 lower for a yield of 4.93 percent, up from 4.88 percent.
The dollar strengthened on the indication of job market strength that analysts said bodes well for sustaining consumers' incomes and spending, even if the overall pace of economic activity is easing.
"This report is consistent with the idea that the U.S. job market remains solid and that economic growth by no means is going to drift down to recessionary levels," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh.
STILL BUYING ON CREDIT
The Federal Reserve later reported consumers kept boosting their spending on credit in February, increasing it by $2.97 billion after a revised $6.61-billion jump in January.
So-called revolving credit that includes credit card charges grew at twice the rate in February -- up 3.4 percent or $2.49 billion after a 1.7 percent rise in January.
Separately, a report from the Economic Cycle Research Institute suggested a slight pickup in inflationary pressures last month. Its Future Inflation Gauge, designed to anticipate cyclical swings in inflation, rose to 118.6 from 118.5 in February.
Another report from the Commerce Department showed a 1.2 percent gain in sales by wholesalers in February, more than recouping a 0.9 percent January fall. Wholesale inventories were up 0.5 percent in February after a 0.6 percent January rise, a steady gain that implies confidence in future sales.
On the jobs front, the Labor Department revised up its estimate for jobs created in January and February by 16,000 each month to 162,000 and 113,000 respectively.
Marc Chandler, chief global currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York, said the report was heartening because it reduced concerns about a potential consumer pullback on spending that might induce businesses to invest less.
The report showed 56,000 construction jobs were added in March, a striking turnaround from February when 61,000 of these jobs were lost, some of them possibly due to unusually cold weather. In addition, there were twice as many new retail jobs added in March -- 35,900 versus 17,400 in February.