After a better than expected payrolls report in July, the August report disappointed again. Nonfarm payrolls rose by 96 000, while the consensus was looking for an increase by 130 000. Also the previous two figures were downwardly revised: July from 163 000 to 141 000 and June from 64 000 to 45 000. All revisions taken into account, the payrolls came out 75 000 below expectations, which is a setback after last month’s positive surprise. Looking at the details, private payrolls increased by 103 000, while the government sector lost 7 000 jobs (significantly less than the 21 000 lost in July). Within the public sector, the federal government added 3 000 jobs (from -12 000), while the state (-6 000 from -8 000) and local (-4 000 from -1 000) government continued to shed jobs.
In the private sector, weakness was led by the goods-producing sector where employment dropped by 16 000 due to a decline in manufacturing jobs (-15 000 from 23 000 in July). In the construction sector, employment grew by 1 000 after stabilizing in July. But the disappointment was not only based the manufacturing sector as hiring also slowed in the services sector (to 119 000 from 139 000). A look at the breakdown of the services sector shows that the number of jobs created picked up in trade and transport (29 000 from 11 000), in the financial sector (7 000 from -12 000) and in leisure and hospitality (34 000 from 28 000). Hiring slowed in the cyclical business services (28 000 from 47 000) and also in education & health (22 000 from 38 000) and in information (3 000 from 8 000). Another worrying sign is that temporary help, which is seen as a leading indicator for the overall payrolls, dropped again, for the first time since March. Temporary help payrolls fell by 5 000 after increasing by 7 000 in July.
At first sight, the news from the household survey is more encouraging, as the unemployment rate dropped from 8.3% to 8.1% in August, reaching again the low set earlier this year. But the breakdown of the household survey is more mixed. The civilian labour force shrunk for a second straight month, by 368 000 to a total level of 154.645 million. Unemployment dropped by 250 000 to 12.544 million, but employment declined too, by 119 000 to 142.101 million. Average weekly hours worked stabilized at 34.4 , but aggregate hours worked picked up slightly, from 95.9 to 96.0. Earnings growth remains disappointingly slow. Compared with the previous month, average hourly earnings stabilized and the annual rate stayed unchanged at 1.7% Y/Y.
After finally some good news in July, most had hoped that the worst would be over and that the payrolls would hover again to more “normal” levels after what was said to be a weather-related drag. But the improvement appeared short-lived. Employment growth slowed again to 96 000 in August, remaining disappointingly slow and also the details suggest that we are not out of the woods yet. This report will probably add to the arguments for the Fed to do more to stimulate the economy as it dashed last month’s hopes that the US labour market was gradually gaining strength.