ECONOMIC NEWS: Job and consumer borrowing gains portray steady economy

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The November jobs report was solid, but it was just one of the positive economic stories that emerged last week.

The Labor Department reported a job gain of 228,000 and an unchanged unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, noting job gains in professional and business services (46,000), manufacturing (31,000) and healthcare (30,000). Job growth has averaged 174,000 positions a month this year.

The government also said Friday that average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose 5 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $26.55. Earnings have risen 64 cents, or 2.5 percent, this year.

“It’s a really, really strong economy,” Tom Gimbel, chief executive of LaSalle Network, a staffing firm in Chicago, told the New York Times. “Companies really want to take advantage of the economy, so they want to hire and get while the getting’s good.”

A day earlier, the Federal Reserve said consumer borrowing rose by $20.5 billion in October, to a seasonally adjusted $3.8 trillion. MarketWatch said the increase was the largest in 11 months and that the total figure was a record.

Meanwhile, the first reading on consumer sentiment this month from the University of Michigan showed a 1.7-point decline, to 96.8.

“Consumer sentiment has remained quite favorable, although it continued to slowly recede in early December from its October cyclical peak,” Richard Curtin, chief economist of the university’s Surveys of Consumers, said in a statement. “Most of the recent decline was concentrated in the long-term prospects for the economy, while consumers thought current economic conditions have continued to improve.

“Importantly, the largest decline in long-term economic prospects was recorded among Democrats, which reflected their concerns about the impact of the proposed changes in taxes,” Curtin added. “Perhaps the most important changes in early December were higher income expectations, as well as a higher expected inflation rate in 2018. Income gains have been slowly improving during the past year, and the data indicate that trend has continued.”

The Labor Department said productivity rose 3 percent in the third quarter, which was the largest increase since the third quarter of 2014, when the gain was 4.4 percent. The revised report also said unit labor costs fell 0.2 percent for the quarter and have decreased by 0.7 percent during the past four quarters.

Business events this week include a meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed’s rate-setting panel. Fed chairman Janet Yellen will hold a press conference on Wednesday to announce the central bank’s decision.

Other reports include the Producer Price Index and the small business index of the National Federation of Independent Business, both today, the Consumer Price Index for November on Wednesday and retail sales for November on Thursday.

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