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.


UK retail sales shoot past pre-virus levels as shoppers migrate online

Supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s have avoided many of the problems plaguing the rest of the retail sector amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Reuters)
Updated 19 September 2020

UK retail sales shoot past pre-virus levels as shoppers migrate online

  • Britain suffered the biggest economic hit of any G7 economy between April and June, when output fell by more than 20 percent

LONDON: British shoppers continued to increase spending last month, taking sales further above pre-COVID levels, as strong online demand helped much of the sector enjoyed a faster rebound than the rest of the economy.
Retail sales volumes rose by 0.8 percent in August, the Office for National Statistics said — slightly above the average 0.7 percent forecast in a Reuters poll — and, compared with a year earlier, they were up 2.8 percent, just below forecasts of 3 percent annual growth.
British retail sales had already overtaken pre-COVID levels in July and now stand 4 percent higher than before the crisis.
However, the rebound masks a sharp split between online and high-street retailers, with online and mail order retailing up 34.4 percent on the year in August, while many traditional retailers outside the grocery sector have suffered reduced footfall.
“Clothing stores continued to struggle, with sales still well below their February level. Overall, the switch to greater online sales means the high street remains under pressure,” ONS deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow said.
The crisis in traditional retailing is having a knock-on effect for commercial landlords, with many stores closing and tenants such as clothing chain New Look seeking to renegotiate rents to link them to turnover.

FASTFACT

British retail sales now stand 4 percent higher than before the crisis.

Clothing sales rose by 13.5 percent on the month, but are still 15.5 percent down on the year.
Grocery sales rose just 0.4 percent in August, after strong growth in previous months when British people had eaten at home more.
August saw a temporary government promotion for dining in restaurants, named “Eat Out to Help Out,” which earlier industry data suggested had dented grocery demand.
The Bank of England (BoE) said on Thursday that Britain’s economy was on course to recover faster than it had forecast in August, but, even so, output in the July-September period is expected to be 7 percent lower than in the final quarter of last year.
Britain suffered the biggest economic hit of any G7 economy between April and June, when output fell by more than 20 percent.
The BoE identified consumer demand as one of the brighter spots, but said it was vulnerable to an upsurge in COVID-19 cases as well as an increase in unemployment when the government’s temporary job support program ends next month.