US adds 136,000 jobs; unemployment hits 50-year low of 3.5%

US hiring has averaged 157,000 in the past three months, enough to absorb new job seekers and lower unemployment over time. (AFP)
Updated 04 October 2019

US adds 136,000 jobs; unemployment hits 50-year low of 3.5%

  • Hiring has slowed this year as the US-China trade war has intensified
  • With the US economic expansion in its 11th year and unemployment low, many businesses have struggled to find the workers they need

WASHINGTON: US employers added a modest 136,000 jobs in September, enough to help lower the unemployment rate to a new five-decade low of 3.5 percent.
Hiring has slowed this year as the US-China trade war has intensified, global growth has slowed and businesses have cut back on their investment spending. Even so, hiring has averaged 157,000 in the past three months, enough to absorb new job seekers and lower unemployment over time.
Despite the ultra-low unemployment rate, which dropped from 3.7 percent in August, average hourly wages slipped by a penny, the Labor Department said Friday in its monthly jobs report. Hourly pay rose just 2.9 percent from a year earlier, below the 3.4 percent year-over-year gain at the beginning of the year.
The unemployment rate for Latinos fell to 3.9 percent, the lowest on records dating from 1973.
With the US economic expansion in its 11th year and unemployment low, many businesses have struggled to find the workers they need. That is likely one reason why hiring has slowed since last year.
But it’s likely not the only reason. The jobs figures carry more weight than usual because worries about the health of the US economy are mounting. Manufacturers have essentially fallen into recession as US businesses have cut spending on industrial machinery, computers and other factory goods. And overseas demand for US exports has fallen sharply as President Donald Trump’s trade conflicts with China and Europe have triggered retaliatory tariffs.
A measure of factory activity fell in September to its lowest level in more than a decade. And new orders for manufactured items slipped last month, the government reported.
Persistent uncertainties about the economy in the face of Trump’s trade conflicts and a global economic slump are also affecting hotels, restaurants and other service industries. A trade group’s measure of growth in the economy’s vast services sector slowed sharply in September to its lowest point in three years, suggesting that the trade conflicts and rising uncertainty are weakening the bulk of the economy.
The job market is the economy’s main bulwark. As long as hiring is solid enough to keep the unemployment rate from rising, most Americans will likely remain confident enough to spend, offsetting other drags and propelling the economy forward.
But a slump in hiring or a rise in the unemployment rate in coming months could discourage consumers from spending as freely as they otherwise might during the holiday shopping season.
Consumers are still mostly optimistic, and their spending has kept the economy afloat this year. But they may be growing more cautious. Consumer confidence dropped sharply in September, according to the Conference Board, a business research group, although it remains at a high level.
Americans also reined in their spending in August after several months of healthy gains. The 0.1 percent increase in consumer spending that month was the weakest in six months.
Other parts of the US economy are still holding up well. Home sales, for example, have rebounded as mortgage rates have fallen, helped in part by the Federal Reserve’s two interest rate cuts this year. Sales of existing homes reached their highest level in nearly 18 months in August. And new home sales soared.
Americans are also buying cars at a still-healthy pace. Consumers would typically be reluctant to make such major purchases if they were fearful of a downturn.


American Airlines threatens to cancel some Boeing 737 MAX orders

Updated 11 July 2020

American Airlines threatens to cancel some Boeing 737 MAX orders

  • American’s stand comes as airlines are finding financing increasingly difficult and expensive
  • Airlines have canceled orders for more than 400 MAX planes so far this year

DALLAS: American Airlines is warning Boeing that it could cancel some overdue orders for the grounded 737 MAX unless the plane maker helps line up new financing for the jets, according to people familiar with the discussions.
American’s stand comes as airlines are finding financing increasingly difficult and expensive as the coronavirus pandemic has crippled their operations.
American had 24 MAX jets before they were grounded in March 2019. It has orders for 76 more but wants Boeing to help arrange financing for 17 planes for which previous financing has or will soon expire, according to three people who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity to discuss private talks between the companies.
If the companies can’t reach an agreement, American could use MAX financing that is about to expire to pay for jets from Boeing’s archrival Airbus, one of the people said.
Chicago-based Boeing said in a statement that it is working with customers during “an unprecedented time for our industry as airlines confront a steep drop in traffic,” but did not comment on the talks with American. The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline declined to comment.
News of American’s threat to cancel some orders was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The situation underscores the strain facing airlines during the coronavirus pandemic. It has grown more difficult and expensive for them to finance planes. American’s negotiating stance doesn’t reflect a loss of confidence in the plane’s safety, the sources said.
The MAX was Boeing’s best-selling plane before crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people and led regulators around the world to ground all MAX jets.
The coronavirus pandemic has compounded Boeing’s problems by causing a sharp drop in air travel and a loss of interest in new planes. Nearly 40 percent of the world’s passenger jets are idled, according to aviation data supplier Cirium, as most airlines have more planes than they need until travel recovers.
That has made it more difficult to finance planes. United Airlines and Southwest Airlines found foreign lenders who agreed in April and May to buy MAX jets and lease them to the airlines, but those carriers are in stronger financial situations than American.
The 17 planes in dispute were supposed to have been delivered to American at least a year ago. That has given the airline the option of canceling the order without penalty and recovering its down payments now, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. The deliveries have been delayed while Boeing works to fix a flight-control system suspected of playing a role in the crashes.
Airlines have canceled orders for more than 400 MAX planes so far this year, and 320 are no longer certain enough to count in Boeing’s backlog. Some were dropped because the airline buyer ran into financial problems, while others were swapped for different Boeing planes. The company had taken 4,619 orders through May.
Air travel in the US fell about 95 percent from the beginning of March until mid-April. Traffic has recovered slightly since then, but remains down more than 70 percent from a year ago. With little revenue coming in, airlines are slashing spending and preparing to furlough thousands of workers this fall.
American has accepted $5.8 billion in federal aid to pay workers through Sept. 30, reached tentative agreement on a $4.75 billion federal loan, and lined up billions more in available cash from private lenders to survive the travel downturn.