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Employment Growth Well Below Expectations in May, Unemployment Rate Holds Steady

US non-farm payroll employment increased by 75,000 in May compared to 180,000 expected. With the labor market going strong, the latest employment growth reading is a surprise to analysts. However, the rate of unemployment remains at 3.6%.

Key Takeaways

  • Non-farm payrolls added a mere 75,000 positions in May vs. 180,000 expected.
  • Most gains were in professional and business services and healthcare.
  • The employment rate remains at 3.6%, the lowest since December 1969.

May payrolls fell short of 244,000 jobs (revised down from 263,000) in April, and March figure were also revised down from 189,000 to 153,000. February has had the worst performance so far in 2019 with only 20,000 jobs added during unfavourable seasonal conditions. The year opened strong with a 311,000 increase to payrolls in January.

The rate of unemployment has remained flat as expected at 3.6%, near a 50-year low.

May figures strengthen the case for the Fed to cut interest rates, and Fed officials have recently indicated that they are prepared to implement a rate cut if necessary depending on economic conditions.

In May, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by $0.06 to $27.83. Average hourly earnings have increased by 3.1% on an annual basis, below the expected figure of 3.2%.

Expert Outlook

“This gives us a real sense of deceleration in the U.S. economy,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at accounting firm Grant Thornton. “We knew this was occurring, but this could be a summer of discontent. It also gives the Fed a green light to cut rates.”

“Overall, the economy is on a fragile footing,” said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at the investment bank Stifel. “We’re still talking about solid growth at the start of the year but that’s in the rear-view mirror. The name of the game is uncertainty.”

Market Reaction

Gold prices are up today, perhaps spurred on by the prospect of a rate cut as well as the sub-par employment data which defied market expectations. Spot gold is trading up 0.74% at $1,347.50/oz with a high of $1,348.05/oz and a low of $1,330.54/oz.