Muddled jobs report leaves Fed in a 'jam' watching markets

Fri Sep 4, 2015 3:16pm EDT
 
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By Jonathan Spicer and Jason Lange

NEW YORK/RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - The latest U.S. jobs report was not definitively good or bad enough to help the Federal Reserve decide whether to raise interest rates later this month, leaving the decision hanging on volatility in financial markets over the next couple of weeks.

The economy added 173,000 jobs in August, quite a bit fewer than expected. But employment growth in June and July were revised higher, wages rose more than expected in August and the jobless rate fell to a seven-year low of 5.1 percent.

With global financial markets reeling over the last two weeks over fears of a Chinese economic slowdown, the report is probably the best and last direct reading on the economy before Fed officials consider hiking rates at a Sept. 16-17 meeting.

Yet the report disappointed those looking for clarity.

"With this jobs report ... the Fed finds itself in a real uncertainty jam when it comes to a September interest rate hike," Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz, in Newport Beach, California, said in an email.

"In the run-up to its policy meeting, the Fed will pay even greater attention to global market developments."

According to Fed policymakers gathered in Jackson Hole, Wyoming last week, not only would the August jobs report need to be decent but market gyrations would need to dissipate for them to act.

Decency was evident in the jobless rate falling to a level many U.S. central bankers see as full strength, while growth in wages and the number of hours worked across the country suggested Americans have more money to spend.   Continued...

 
The Federal Reserve building in Washington September 1,  2015.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque