U.S. jobs growth strong, casting doubt on anticipated Fed rate cut

U.S. employers sharply stepped up their hiring in June, adding a robust 224,000 jobs, a healthy number that could affect the Federal Reserve's decision on interest rates.

Stocks slide as jobs report indicates continuing growth in U.S. economy

A construction worker walks past a mural of the South Bend skyline in South Bend, Indiana, on July 1. The U.S. created 224,000 jobs in June. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

U.S. employers sharply stepped up their hiring in June, adding a robust 224,000 jobs, an indication of the economy's durability after more than a decade of expansion.

The strength of the jobs report the Labor Department issued Friday could complicate a decision for the Federal Reserve late this month on whether to cut interest rates to help support the economy. Most investors anticipate a rate cut.

Stock markets dipped on the news as a rate cut has been widely anticipated since the Fed's last guidance. The Dow, resuming trading after the July 4 holiday, was down 177 points at mid-morning, by the close was off 44 points to 26,922. The U.S. dollar strengthened against other currencies.

Last month's solid job growth followed a tepid gain of 72,000 jobs in May, a result that had raised concern about the economy. The burst of hiring in June may indicate that many employers have shrugged off concerns about weaker global growth, President Donald Trump's trade wars and the waning benefits from U.S. tax cuts.

More people seeking work

The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.7 per cent  in June from 3.6 per cent for the previous two months, reflecting an influx of people seeking jobs who were initially counted as unemployed. Average hourly wages rose 3.1 per cent from a year ago.

The job gains in June were broad. Construction companies added 21,000 workers after having increased their payrolls by only 5,000 in May. Manufacturers hired 17,000, up from just 3,000 in May. Health care and social assistance added 50,500 jobs. Hiring by transportation and warehousing companies increased 23,900.

The government sector was a major source of hiring, adding 33,000 jobs in June. Almost all those gains were at the local level.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will testify before Congress on Wednesday and Thursday of next week. (Mary F. Calvert/Reuters)

The Fed has expressed concern about threats to the economy, especially from Trump's trade wars, and about inflation remaining persistently below its two per cent target level. A rate cut would be the Fed's first in more than a decade.

On Friday, the central bank repeated its pledge to "act as appropriate" to sustain the current economic expansion, now the longest in U.S. history, while noting that most Fed officials have lowered their expectations for the future course of interest rates.

The Fed's statement on interest rates came in its semi-annual monetary policy report, which said that since May "the tenor of incoming information on economic activity, on balance, has become somewhat more downbeat and uncertainties about the economic outlook have increased."

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will testify before Congress on the monetary report on Wednesday and Thursday of next week.

He has been criticized by U.S. President Donald Trump for raising the benchmark rate over the past two years as the economy boomed. 

Fear over trade wars, weak global growth

The slowdown in hiring during May had suggested that employers had grown more cautious in the face of weaker global growth, political showdowns over trade and, perhaps, some difficulty in finding enough qualified workers at the wages companies are willing to pay.

The pace of the overall economy is widely thought to be slowing sharply from annual growth that neared a healthy three per cent last year. Consumer spending has solidified. Home sales are rebounding. But America's manufacturing sector is slowing along with construction spending. Growth in the services sector, which includes such varied industries as restaurants, finance and recreation, slowed in June.

Overall, employers have been adding jobs faster than new workers are flowing into the economy. That suggests that the unemployment rate will remain near its five-decade low and that the economy will keep growing, even if only modestly.