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Let's talk about the U.S. jobs report. I'd rather not actually, as there is no way I can offer even the most basic commentary on Friday's (if you were lucky, you were enjoying your day off and didn't hear about it in a hurry) assessment of the U.S. jobs situation and not be accused of being downbeat. But honestly, you'd have to try really, really hard to put on a happy face about this one.
Here are the stats: the U.S. added a measly 120,000 jobs in March, compared to the market's expectation of over 200,000. The last couple of months, job growth had indeed been a little north of 200,000 per month, which raised all kinds of expectations of a late, but decisive, jobs recovery. The U.S. unemployment rate did go down a bit -- from 8.3 percent to 8.2 percent -- but that was because people stopped looking for work.
Drilling down, the details were not any better. Average hours worked were down, and so were average wages. That does not bode well for gross domestic product or consumer spending in the coming quarters.
Let's be clear, too: the last few months of jobs growth were not particularly good in the context of anything but the last few years of the U.S. 'recovery'. After the recession in the early 1980s, U.S. jobs were back to pre-recession levels in 12 months; in the 1990s, it took 24 months; in 2001, it was 40 months, which did seem to be pretty long. This time around, the U.S. is 51 months into the recovery -- and it's still 5.1 million jobs down from the peak.
So look for a silver lining if you want, but you'll have to look really hard.
Then again, if you wanted another round of stimulus from the U.S. Federal Reserve, maybe this was the kind of jobs report you could love. The Fed -- and in particular its Chairman Ben Bernanke -- has already indicated it is worried about the U.S. jobs picture, and no doubt it is now more worried than ever.
So another round of quantitative easing -- not that there is any consensus that either of the previous two rounds have even worked -- is certainly on the table.
And there is one more thing to take from the U.S. jobs report, and it is something that a lot of Canadians may like: with a report like this, Canadian interest rates have to be on hold, maybe for a quite a while.
You may recall that Canada came out with its own jobs report the day before the U.S. and it showed lots of jobs, particularly full-time ones. Talk was of Canada raising rates, maybe as early as this year.
Nothing is impossible, of course, but a flagging U.S. labour market can reasonably be expected to mean that Canadians get to keep paying recession-era interest rates -- even if our own recession is but a memory.