Canada added 56,000 jobs last month, blowing past expectations

Canada's economy added 56,000 new jobs in February, and most were full time, according to the latest federal numbers.

Most of the new jobs were full time and in Ontario

The economy added 56,000 new jobs in February, the bulk in Ontario, according to figures released Friday. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Canada's economy added 56,000 jobs in February, and most were full time, Statistics Canada reported Friday.

Economists had been expecting a flat showing for the month, with a little over 1,000 new jobs. But the numbers blew past those expectations thanks to a surge of full-time jobs.

A total of 67,400 full-time positions were added during the month but 11,600 part-time jobs were shed, accounting for the 56,000 net total.

The jobless rate, meanwhile, stayed flat at 5.8 per cent despite the job surge because more people were looking for work, too.

Almost all the new jobs came in Ontario, which added 59,000 full-time positions. Everywhere else, the job market was relatively flat.

The loonie jumped about a half a cent when the numbers came out, to as high as 74.67 cents US at one point.

Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist for Cambridge Global Payments, is a bit worried about that job concentration in Ontario because of what's happening in the province's housing market.

"If our debt-funded, real estate-backed consumption thesis is correct, national employment conditions could worsen over the coming months," he said after the numbers came out.

Best two months for jobs since 2012

The strong February figures come on the heels of an even bigger gain of 66,800 jobs in January. That's the best two-month stretch for the job market since 2012. 

U.S. jobs data also published Friday shows the American economy added just 20,000 jobs in February, making it the first month in more than eight years that Canada has added more jobs in a month than the U.S. did.

The sudden surge in jobs in Canada comes as a bit of a head scratcher for economists because other recent economic data, including gross domestic product and inflation, have been suggesting the economy is softening.

"The weak economic data that closed out 2018 and soft momentum heading into this year has not yet had any impact on the jobs numbers," Toronto-Dominion Bank economist Brian DePratto said. "​Labour markets didn't get the memo."

Wages inched higher, too. On average, pay packets have increased by 2.3 per cent in the year up to February, a rise from a 1.8 per cent annual pace the previous month.

Economist Alicia Macdonald, who's with the Conference Board of Canada, noted that after faltering through the latter part of 2018, "the most positive news for the month was the pickup in wage growth."

"While the Bank of Canada may consider this a positive report, we expect them to keep interest rates steady this year given the multitude of risks facing the economy," she said.

DePratto noted while it's good news Canadian workers are being paid more for every hour they work, they're not necessarily getting paid as much as they could be because they're working fewer hours. The total number of hours worked has now fallen three months in a row, he noted, down by 0.7 per cent in February from January's level.

"Canadians are working fewer hours in aggregate," he said. "This is something to watch, particularly given the implications for economic output."