U.S. jobs growth expected to regain momentum in April

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WASHINGTON – U.S. job growth likely accelerated in April after a weather-related slowdown in the previous month, with the unemployment rate expected to drop to near a 17-1/2-year low of 4.0 percent.

The Labor Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday is also expected to show steady wage growth, which would add to signs of building inflation pressures and likely keep the Federal Reserve on a gradual path of monetary policy tightening.

The U.S. central bank on Wednesday left interest rates unchanged and said it expected annual inflation to run close to its “symmetric” 2 percent target over the medium term.

Economists interpreted symmetric to mean policymakers would not be too concerned with inflation overshooting the target.

Non-farm payrolls probably increased by 192,000 jobs last month, according to a Reuters survey of economists. Payrolls rose by 103,000 positions in March, the smallest gain in six months, which economists dismissed as payback after unseasonably mild weather boosted hiring by 326,000 jobs in February.

The anticipated decline in the unemployment rate from 4.1 percent in March would put it at a level last seen in December 2000 and within striking distance of the Fed’s forecast for 3.8 percent by the end of this year.

“The high-frequency indicators coming from the labor market continue to look rock solid, there is no real indication that the labor market is slowing down,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco. “From the Fed’s perspective we are already at or below full employment.”

Average hourly earnings are expected to have risen 0.2 percent last month after a 0.3 percent gain in March. That would leave the annual increase in average hourly earnings at 2.7 percent. While average hourly earnings have suggested only a gradual increase in wage inflation, other measures have been more robust.

The Employment Cost Index (ECI), widely viewed by policymakers and economists as one of the better measures of labor market slack, increased solidly in the first quarter. The ECI report showed wages rising at their fastest pace in 11 years during the period. – Reuters

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