US adds more jobs than expected in Jan, but wage growth cools

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The US economy added far more jobs than expected last month, but wage growth cooled, offering a muddied reading on the labour market in the first jobs report released during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The world’s biggest developed market added 227,000 jobs in January, blowing past Wall Street expectations of 180,000.

However, average hourly earnings rose at a year-on-year rate of 2.5 per cent, a slowdown from 2.8 per cent in December, and missing estimates of 2.7 per cent. Economists have been cheered by the more rapid rise in wages in recent months, something that had been absent for much of the recovery from the Great Recession.

The figures released on Friday suggest that there is still some slack remaining in the labour market, something that may give the Federal Reserve more breathing room as it determines when to next tighten monetary policy after the rate rise in December 2016.

The so-called underemployment rate also disappointed in January, ticking up to 9.4 per cent, the highest level since October. The overall jobless rate rose to 4.8 per cent from 4.7 per cent, compared with forecasts that it would hold steady.

The data are “just what the doves at the Fed wanted to see. All of the numbers point towards it being more difficult to justify another hike in March,” said James Athey, an investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management.

Treasuries rallied on the report, with the yield on the two-year note — the most sensitive to future changes in monetary policy — declining 4 basis points from an intra-day high to 1.19 per cent.

US stocks added to earlier gains in pre-market trading, with the S&P 500 poised to open roughly 0.3 per cent higher. The dollar whipsawed after the report, retaining gains against the British pound but erasing an earlier advance against the Japanese yen.

The data from January are derived by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from two surveys: One queries households and is the source of the jobless rate figure, and another surveys businesses and government agencies and provides the figures on the number of jobs added.

The former is generally conducted in the week that contains the 12th of the month – which would have been before Mr Trump’s inauguration. Meanwhile, the latter asks groups to provide data from the pay period that includes the twelfth, meaning it could have included dates following the end of Barack Obama’s presidency.

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