Strong U.S. jobs report bolsters case for further Fed tightening

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – U.S. employers hired more workers than expected in July and raised their wages, signs of labor market tightness that likely clears the way for the Federal Reserve to announce a plan to start shrinking its massive bond portfolio.

The Labor Department said yesterday that nonfarm payrolls increased by 209,000 jobs last month amid broad-based gains. June’s employment gain was revised up to 231,000 from the previously reported 222,000.

Average hourly earnings increased nine cents, or 0.3 percent, in July after rising 0.2 percent in June. That was the biggest rise in five months. On a year-on-year basis, wages increased 2.5 percent for the fourth straight month.

“The Fed set a low bar for balance sheet normalization to begin in September, and today’s number cleared that bar with elan,” said Michael Feroli, economist at JPMorgan in New York.

Although the economy is near full employment, wage growth has not been strong in part because many of the jobs being created are in low-wage industries. Last month, restaurants and bars added 53,100 jobs.

July’s monthly increase in earnings could, however, offer Fed policymakers some assurance that inflation will gradually rise to the U.S. central bank’s 2 percent target.

Economists expect the Fed will announce a plan to start reducing its $4.2 trillion portfolio of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities at its next policy meeting in September. The Fed bought these securities to lower interest rates in the wake of the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Sluggish wage growth and the accompanying benign inflation, however, suggest the Fed will delay raising interest rates again until December. It has increased borrowing costs twice this year and its benchmark overnight interest rate is in a range of 1 percent to 1.25 percent.

The dollar rose and was set for its biggest one-day gain versus a basket of currencies this year, while prices for U.S. Treasuries fell. Stocks on Wall Street edged higher.

Economists had forecast payrolls increasing by 183,000 jobs and wages rising 0.3 percent in July.

Republican President Donald Trump, who inherited a strong job market from the Obama administration, cheered Friday’s employment data. “Excellent Jobs Numbers just released – and I have only just begun,” Trump said on Twitter. “Many job stifling regulations continue to fall. Movement back to USA!”

Trump has pledged to sharply boost economic growth and further strengthen the labor market by slashing taxes, cutting regulation and boosting infrastructure spending.

But after six months in office the Trump administration has failed to pass any economic legislation and has yet to articulate a plan for much of its economic agenda.

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