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Investors pin recovery hopes on US jobs

Jul 08 2011 11:20 Reuters

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Washington - US companies probably stepped up hiring in June as the economy recovers from a stumble in recent months, although job growth is not expected to be strong enough to eat into high unemployment.

Nonfarm payrolls are seen having risen by 90 000, according to a Reuters survey conducted last week. In May, employment rose a paltry 54 000.

Many economists raised their forecasts on Thursday after a stronger-than-expected reading on US private hiring from payrolls processor ADP, and they now expect gains of anywhere between 125 000 and 175 000.

The private sector will account for all the jobs created, as has been the trend over the last seven months, with layoffs at state and local governments continuing.

Nonetheless, the jobless rate, which is derived from a separate survey of households, is expected to hold steady at 9.1%.

The Labor Department will release its closely watched employment report on Friday. The report provides one of the best early reads on the health of the US economy and sets the tone for economic data for the rest of month.

"We have always described the difficult environment of the last couple of months as more of a soft patch than evidence of a double-dip," said Leo Abruzzese, global forecasting director at the Economist Intelligence Unit in New York.

"The figures on Friday will probably confirm that, while we are not back where we were at the beginning of the year, at least we are heading back in the right direction."

Nonfarm employment gains averaged 182 250 in the first four months of the year. Economists view the brake on hiring in May, with the smallest gain in eight months, as an aberration.

Economic activity in the first six months of the year was dampened by rising commodity prices and supply chain disruptions following Japan's devastating earthquake in March.

But those restraints have been easing. Gasoline prices have dropped 38 cents from their peak just above $4 a gallon in early May, and motor vehicle production is picking up as the supply of parts from Japan starts to normalize.

Finding firmer ground

"The economy rather than downshifting is shifting up a little bit. We went through a soft spot and now we are getting to firmer ground," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh.

Any sign the labor market is improving will bring relief to the Obama administration. It has struggled to get the economy to create enough jobs to absorb the 13.9 million unemployed Americans.

The economy is the top concern among voters and will feature prominently in President Barack Obama's bid for reelection next year. So far, the economy has regained only a fraction of the more than 8 million jobs lost during the recession.

At the same time, the Federal Reserve - which wrapped up a $600bn bond-buying program last week designed to spur lending and stimulate growth - appears unlikely to take any further steps to boost the economy.

The economy needs to create between 125 000 and 150 000 new jobs a month just to absorb new labor force entrants.

"We expect to see job growth in the second half of the year of around 200 000 a month, that will shave the unemployment rate a bit," said Abruzzese. "We do think the unemployment rate by the end of the year will probably be down in the mid-8% (range), maybe a little bit lower than that."

The private services sector is expected to account for most of the job growth in June. Manufacturing payrolls are expected to have rebounded after contracting in May for the first time in seven months, with the recovery mostly reflecting a step-up in motor vehicle production.

Construction employment will likely continue to surprise on the upside, despite weakness in the housing market. Construction payrolls have increased since February.

Government employment is expected to have declined for an eighth straight month as municipalities and state governments continue to wield the ax to balance their budgets.

The report is expected to show the average work week unchanged at 34.4 hours. Employers have been reluctant to extend hours because of the uncertainty surrounding the recovery, and a rise in the workweek would be a sign that more permanent hiring is in the cards.

Average hourly earnings are expected to edge up 0.2% after rising 0.3% in May, which would do little for cash-strapped consumers but reassure financial markets wage-driven inflation is not a risk.
debt crisis  |  unemployment  |  us economy
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