Employers probably added 150,000 workers to their payrolls last
month, according to a Reuters poll of economists, up from the
similarly weather-depressed levels of 113,000 in January and 75,000
An unusual amount of uncertainty surrounds the forecast, however,
given that winter storms pummeled densely populated areas with snow
and ice during the week employers were surveyed. Estimates range
from a low of 95,000 to a high of 235,000.
"We cannot remember another year when inclement weather persisted
for three consecutive payroll periods," said Peter D'Antonio, an
economist at Citigroup in New York.
"Although there were normal temperatures during the February survey
week, the polar vortex that froze much of the East during the period
between surveys probably limited hiring activity."
Unusually cold temperatures have gripped much of the country since
December and been blamed for a sharp decrease in hiring.
Nonfarm payrolls averaged about 205,000 jobs per month in the first
11 months of in 2013. For December and January, that figure dropped
to just 94,000.
Economists estimate the weather could depress February payrolls by
between 25,000 and 50,000 jobs.
The Fed, which is dialing back the amount of money it is injecting
into the economy through monthly bond purchases, has viewed the
weakness as largely weather-related and temporary.
Most economists agree.
"Other economic data gives us the sense that underneath the snow and
ice there is a current of economic momentum and once we get through
the weather effects we will see some bounce-back," said Robert Dye,
chief economist at Comerica in Dallas.
"My expectation is that we see a number above 120,000 and the Fed
interprets it as sufficient to continue with reductions to its
monthly bond purchases."
Data on consumer and construction spending, and new weekly filings
for unemployment benefits suggest resilience in the economy. A
measure of hiring by small businesses hit a six-year high in
In addition, factor activity shows signs of regaining some of the
strength sapped by severe weather in December and January.
The Labor Department will release the monthly jobs report, which is
closely watched by financial markets around the globe, on Friday at
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UNEMPLOYMENT AT FIVE-YEAR LOW
The unemployment rate is forecast holding steady at a five-year low
of 6.6 percent in February.
There is, however, a chance of a decline as some of the more than
one million long-term unemployed who lost jobless benefits stop
their job hunts. This means they would no longer be considered as
unemployed and in the labor market.
All the job gains in February were most likely in the private
sector. Government payrolls are expected to have dropped, but not as
steeply as January's 29,000 jobs decline.
Manufacturing employment is expected to rise for a seventh straight
month, though the pace of hiring probably slowed from the 21,000
jobs added in January.
Construction payrolls, which surprised in January by logging their
biggest one-month gain in nearly eight years, are expected to have
declined last month because of bad weather.
Some economists point to the strong gains in manufacturing and
construction in January as an indication that weather is not behind
the cooling in hiring.
A rebound is expected in education and health services employment
after two straight months of declines. This sector is normally
associated with solid job gains.
Average hourly earnings probably rose 0.2 percent after rising by
the same margin in January. The length of the workweek likely held
steady at an average of 34.4 hours, but severe weather could have
reduced hours for some workers.
(Editing by Paul Simao)
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