US Private-Sector Employment Surged In February

Hiring at US companies accelerated in February, rising 287,000, the biggest monthly advance in nearly two years, according to the Labor Department. The faster increase translates into the strongest year-over-year rise since last August. The upbeat data gives the Federal Reserve another excuse to raise interest rates at the March 20-21 monetary policy meeting.

Today’s results also provide fresh support for arguing that the deceleration in growth in the labor market has bottomed out and is now rebounding. Private-sector payrolls increased 1.8% in the year through last month, marking the strongest annual pace in six months. Using the last several months as a guide, it appears that a new uptrend in annual growth may be underway.

The year-over-year change, although firmer compared with recent history, is still a middling rate compared with numbers published over the past year. But the stronger annual pace, which has picked up in recent months, may be a sign that the labor market’s growth rate is reaccelerating after several years of downshifting.

Meantime, today’s report clears the path for another rate hike at the FOMC meeting scheduled for later this month. In fact, given the latest numbers it would be surprising if the central bank doesn’t tighten monetary policy.

The question is whether President Trump’s embrace of protectionist measures this week will spark a global trade war? If so, will that create new headwinds for the US economy – headwinds that aren’t yet reflected in today’s data? It’s too soon to know, largely because it’s unclear how other nations will respond to the President’s embrace of trade policies.

For now, the US labor market continues to expand at a healthy pace. But there’s a new risk factor to consider as foreign governments evaluate how or if to respond to trade tariffs.