One good, one bad news for US job market

As global markets anxiously wait for US Federal Reserve’s interest rate decision due September 17, US central bank’s closely watched nonfarm payrolls data rises below expectations, unemployment falls to lowest since April 2008

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Job seekers work with recruiters at GRID Alternatives solar job fair in San Francisco, California, July 15, 2015.

US payrolls rose less than expected in August, but a drop in the unemployment rate to a near 7-1/2-year low of 5.1 percent and an acceleration in wages kept alive prospects of a Federal Reserve interest rate hike later this month.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 173,000 last month as the manufacturing sector lost the most jobs since July 2013, the Labor Department said on Friday. It marked a slowdown from July's upwardly revised gain of 245,000 and was the smallest rise in employment in five months.

The report, however, may have been tarnished by a statistical fluke that in recent years has frequently led to sharp upward revisions to payroll figures for August after initial weak readings.

Indicating that the slowdown in job growth was likely not reflective of the economy's true health, payrolls data for June and July were revised to show 44,000 more jobs created than previously reported. In addition, average hourly earnings increased 8 cents, the biggest rise since January, and the workweek rose to 34.6 hours.

"The payrolls data is certainly good enough to allow for a Fed rate hike in September, the big question is still whether financial market volatility will scupper the plans," said Alan Ruskin, global head of currency strategy at Deutsche Bank in New York.

The dollar trimmed losses against a basket of currencies after the data, while prices for US Treasury debt pared gains.

While the report may not change views that the US economy remains vibrant amid volatile global financial markets and slowing Chinese growth, it could further complicate the Fed's decision at a policy meeting on September 16-17.

In the wake of a recent global equities sell-off, financial markets significantly scaled back bets on a September rate hike over the past month. But Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer told CNBC last week it was too early to decide whether the stock market rout had made an increase less compelling.

The jobless rate's two-tenths of a percentage point drop took it to its lowest level since April 2008 and brought it into the range that most Fed officials think is consistent with a low but steady rate of inflation.