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U.S. economy adds fewer jobs than forecast in November, unemployment rate holds at 3.7%

Myles Udland
Markets Reporter

The new monthly jobs report is out and shows the U.S. labor market continues to hum along.

In November, the economy added 155,000 jobs and the unemployment rate stayed at 3.7%.

Nonfarm payrolls were forecast to rise by 198,000 in November with the unemployment rate expected to hold steady at a post-crisis low of 3.7%, the lowest overall unemployment level since 1969.

Wages were in-line with expectations, with average hourly earnings rising 0.3% over last month and 3.1% over the prior year. Wage growth has been closely tracked for signs of inflation pressures in the economy. In October, wages rose 3.1% over the prior year, the fastest pace of annual wage growth since April 2009 while 250,000 new jobs were created.

Following Friday’s report, U.S. stock futures were higher following news that OPEC would cut oil production, sending crude oil prices up over 3% and bringing markets higher.

“The slightly more modest 155,000 gain in payroll employment in November may not go down well in markets given the heightened nervousness in recent months, but this is still a solid gain that suggests economic growth is gradually slowing back towards its potential pace,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

“There is nothing here to suggest the economy is suffering a more sudden downturn.”

The U.S. jobs report on Friday will be the week’s biggest economic event during what’s been a chaotic week for markets. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

In November, the manufacturing sector continued to show strength with payrolls rising by 27,000 in that industry after a 26,000 job increase in October. Following Friday’s report, the 3-month average for job gains in the U.S. stood at 170,000, down from 214,000 as of October.

“Markets shouldn’t be too disappointed as the fact that there aren’t enough workers was almost certainly a major factor,” said James Knightley, chief international economist at ING. “Decent economic momentum means there is little reason to expect a significant drop-off in demand for workers anytime soon but the key question is whether companies can actually find workers. Given the scarcity of available labor, this suggests further upside for wages.” 

Friday’s jobs report comes on the background not only of volatile markets but a Federal Reserve that has appeared to slightly change its tune on its outlook for interest rate hikes next year. Friday’s report is unlikely to put pressure on that view.

Last week, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell made headlines when he said interest rates are “just below” the range of estimates for the neutral rate of interest — the interest rate at which the economy can sustain full employment and 2% inflation — a change in his view from early October that the Fed was a “long way” from neutral.

Nick Timiraos of The Wall Street Journal wrote Thursday that Powell’s early October comment was interpreted by investors as a sign the Fed “planned many more rate increases, a signal he wasn’t trying to send.” Following the publication of Timiraos’ story late Thursday, markets rallied sharply with the Dow and S&P 500 nearly erasing all of their earlier losses.

Myles Udland is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @MylesUdland