U.S. job growth brakes sharply, clouds Fed rate hike timing

Fri Apr 3, 2015 12:47pm EDT
 
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. employers added the fewest number of jobs in more than a year in March, the latest sign of weakness in the economy and one likely to further delay an anticipated interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve.

Nonfarm payrolls rose 126,000 last month, less than half February's pace and the smallest gain since December 2013, the Labor Department said on Friday.

The weakness was concentrated in the goods-producing sector, which has been hurt by a strong dollar and lower crude oil prices. Leisure and hospitality also saw a sharp slowdown in jobs growth, suggesting harsh winter weather could have dragged on hiring.

While the jobless rate held at a more than 6-1/2-year low of 5.5 percent, the workforce shrank. The labor force participation rate returned to a more than 36-year low reached late last year.

"The report confirms the emerging narrative of slowing growth momentum seen in the other economic indicators. It will weaken the argument for a mid-year (rate) hike," said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

The tepid increase in payrolls ended 12 straight months of job gains above 200,000 - the longest streak since 1994. In addition, data for January and February were revised to show 69,000 fewer jobs created than previously reported, giving the report an even weaker tone.

After its robust stretch, the jobs figures now appear more in line with other signals from consumer spending to housing starts and manufacturing that have suggested the economy grew at a sub-1 percent annual rate in the first quarter. Economists had forecast that payrolls would rise 245,000 last month.

Prices for U.S. government debt rallied as investors pushed back their expectations for a Fed rate hike, while U.S. stock index futures fell about 1 percent. The dollar dropped against a basket of currencies.   Continued...

 
A woman walks past a "Now Hiring" sign as she leaves the Urban Outfitters store at Quincy Market in Boston, Massachusetts September 5, 2014.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder