The U.S. economy added a healthy 235,000 jobs in February, according to government data released Friday morning, surpassing economists’ expectations and likely clearing the way for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this month.
The unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7 percent, compared with 4.8 percent in January, and wages rose by 6 cents to $26.09 in February, after a 5-cent increase the month before.
“It’s definitely a solid report,” said Tara Sinclair, an economist at George Washington University. “This is the kind of number that the Federal Reserve was looking to receive before their meetings next week.”
The release of February’s unemployment data was widely seen as the final hurdle before the Federal Reserve’s March 14-15 meeting, when the central bank is expected to announce a quarter-point increase in its benchmark interest rate. The odds of a March rate increase climbed to more than 90 percent on the jobs data Friday, up from only 25 percent at the beginning of February, according to futures contracts monitored by the CME Group’s FedWatch program.
“Raising rates next week is as close to a certainty as you ever get in this business,” said Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman.
U.S. stock markets opened higher Friday, but all three major indexes had dipped slightly by mid-afternoon.
“We’re in that curious environment where the only good news is news that surpasses our already high expectations,” Clemons said. “But I’m hard pressed to find anything disappointing in this report.”
Measures of business and consumer confidence have risen in recent months, due in part to the continued long-run recovery of the economy and expectations of a more business-friendly environment under the Trump administration. In early March, Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index, a measure of how Americans rate current economic conditions, rose to the highest level in its nine-year history.
First published on The Washington Post