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What Economists Are Saying Ahead of December's U.S. Jobs Report

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. employers probably capped a strong year of hiring with a gain just short of the average pace in 2018.

Nonfarm payrolls rose by 184,000 in December, according to the median of estimates in Bloomberg’s survey of economists before the Labor Department releases its monthly employment report Friday at 8:30 a.m. in Washington. That would be up from 155,000 jobs added in November yet shy of the 206,000 average pace in the first 11 months of the year.

The labor market, however, is unlikely to perform as well this year. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect job gains to slow to an average monthly pace of 156,000. That would amount to 1.87 million for 2019, less than the 2.27 million added in the first 11 months of 2018.

The jobless rate held in December at 3.7 percent, a 49-year low, as annual wage gains eased to 3 percent from a post-recession high of 3.1 percent, forecasts show.

Job-gain estimates in Bloomberg survey range from 160,000 to 225,000. Here’s what some economists expect, with projections listed from low to high:

ING Groep

  • 165,000 jobs, 3.7 percent unemployment rate, 3.1 percent annual wage growth
  • “Employment growth is slowing, but this is more to do with a lack of available workers rather than a drop in demand,” Chief International Economist James Knightley wrote in a note. “The implication is wages will keep rising, supporting confidence and spending.”

Wells Fargo

  • 165,000 jobs, 3.7 percent unemployment, 3 percent annual wage growth
  • “The underlying pace of job growth remains solid as evidenced by historically low initial jobless claims, healthy private sector employment sentiment, and consumers’ assessment of the labor market continuing to make fresh cycle highs,” Senior Economist Sam Bullard wrote in a note. “While the breadth of hiring remains healthy, a close eye will be kept on rate-sensitive sectors as the Fed continues to intimate further monetary policy tightening.”

Morgan Stanley

  • 167,000 jobs, 3.7 percent unemployment, 3.1 percent annual wage growth
  • “Our payrolls model along with a bottom-up look at industry trends in employment suggest a moderate payrolls print,” Chief U.S. Economist Ellen Zentner and colleagues said in a note. “Initial jobless claims, a key variable in our model, fell back to near decade-low levels in December after increasing for three straight weeks in November. The return of claims to hover near multi-decade lows indicates that firing rates have not materially inflected higher and that the labor market remains healthy.”

Citigroup

  • 173,000 jobs, 3.7 percent unemployment, 3 percent annual wage growth
  • “A substantial surprise in the jobs number, either higher or lower, would likely elicit a significant market reaction,” economist Veronica Clark said in a note. “An upside surprise could increase market expectations for rate hikes in 2019, while a downside surprise could lead markets to price a higher probability that exceptional U.S. growth is not immune from declining equity prices and slowing global growth.”

Barclays

  • 185,000 jobs, 3.6 percent unemployment, 3 percent annual wage gain
  • “Underlying our forecast is a combination of labor market data, which points to some slowing in trend employment growth, and a belief that weather-related effects held down employment in November,” Chief U.S. Economist Michael Gapen wrote. “Our outlook for slower growth in activity in 2019 relative to last year on account of a smaller impulse from fiscal stimulus leads us to expect less employment growth this year.”

Goldman Sachs

  • 195,000 jobs, 3.7 percent unemployment, 3 percent annual wage growth
  • “Our forecast reflects a modest slowdown in the trend of job growth, and a weather-related boost worth 25,000 or more,” economists wrote. “On the negative side, the pull-forward of holiday retail hiring into November could weigh on December job growth in that industry.”

Amherst Pierpont

  • 200,000 jobs, 3.6 percent unemployment, 3 percent annual wage growth
  • “Market participants are convinced that the U.S. economy is in the early stages of crumbling, but there has been little corroborating evidence that labor demand has weakened considerably,” Chief Economist Stephen Stanley wrote. “Anecdotal soundings also remain largely robust, though there are concerns about the 2019 outlook given uncertainties caused by trade policy and financial market volatility.”

Bloomberg Economics

  • 210,000 jobs, 3.6 percent unemployment, 3 percent annual wage growth
  • “The pace of job creation in December was likely immune to the market sell-off and intensifying political uncertainty,” economists Yelena Shulyatyeva, Tim Mahedy and Carl Riccadonna wrote. “However, risks to the outlook have escalated lately and an expected moderation in economic growth will likely coincide with a less-robust pace of job creation as this year progresses.

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