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ECONOMIC NEWS: Manufacturing and construction hiring bodes well for 2018

The U.S. economy created 148,000 jobs in December, fewer than economists expected, but the manufacturing and construction sectors hired more people and there have been additional recent signs that manufacturing is improving.

The Labor Department said Friday that manufacturing employment rose by 25,000 and that the gain largely reflected a 21,000-job increase in durable goods industries.

Construction added 30,000 jobs, and earlier in the week the Commerce Department said construction spending rose 0.8 percent in November, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.26 billion.

“Overall, Q4 is headed for a 10 percent annualized increase in total construction spending, the best performance since Q1 2016,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist for Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a MarketWatch story.

The Labor Department said average hourly earnings for all workers on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 9 cents, to $26.63, in December. For the year, earnings rose 2.5 percent.

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged at 34.5 hours in December, the department said. In manufacturing, the workweek edged down by one-tenth of an hour, to 40.8 hours; overtime remained at 3.5 hours.

One dismaying figure in the Labor Department’s report was that retail employment fell by 20,000 during the last month of the holiday-shopping period.

Financial experts took note of it.

"A little bit of a disappointment when you only get 2,000 jobs out of the government and get retail at the absolute busiest time of the year losing 20,000 jobs. It just goes to show the true struggle that traditional brick and mortar is having now," JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade, told CNBC. "Outside of that I actually thought it was a good report."

Followers of manufacturing separately received good news last week in reports on factory orders and the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index.

The Census Bureau said Friday that new orders for manufactured goods rose by 1.3 percent, or $6.5 billion, to $488.1 billion in November. Orders were up 0.4 percent in October. The government said shipments, which have risen in 11 of the past 12 months, increased by $5.7 billion, or 1.2 percent, to $491.2 billion in December.

New orders for manufactured durable goods rose by $3 billion, or 1.3 percent, to $241.4 billion.

The ISM’s manufacturing index rose to 59.7 percent in December from 58.2 percent in November. Readings above 50 indicate expansion. The ISM said 16 of 18 industries reported growth.

On Monday the Federal Reserve said consumer credit rose at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 8.75 percent in November. Revolving credit, such as credit cards, rose at a rate of 13.25 percent; nonrevolving credit, such as installment loans, rose at an annual rate of 7.25 percent.

Today economy watchers will see the Index of Small Business Optimism for December from the National Federation of Independent Business. The index rose to 107.5 in November, the highest it has been since Ronald Reagan was president.

The Producer Price Index for December is due on Thursday, and reports on retail sales and the Consumer Price Index will be released on Friday.

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