Biden administration plans tougher action to rein in meat prices

By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Biden administration plans to take a tougher stance toward meatpacking companies it says are causing sticker shock at grocery stores.

Four companies control much of the U.S. meat processing market, and top aides to President Joe Biden blamed those companies for rising food prices in a blog on Wednesday.

As part of a set of initiatives, the administration will funnel $1.4 billion in COVID-19 pandemic stimulus money to small meat producers and workers, administration aides said in the blog post. They also promised action to “crack down on illegal price fixing,” White House aides said in the blog post.

Four companies slaughtered about 85% of U.S. grain-fattened cattle that are made into steaks, beef roasts and other cuts of meat for consumers in 2018, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The big four processors in the U.S. beef sector are: Cargill, a global commodity trader based in Minnesota; Tyson Foods Inc, the chicken producer that is the biggest U.S. meat company by sales; Brazil-based JBS SA, the world’s biggest meatpacker; and National Beef Packing Co, which is controlled by Brazilian beef producer Marfrig Global Foods SA.

The companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Shares of Tyson briefly dipped in higher-volume trade after the Reuters report.

Price increases in beef, pork and poultry have driven half of the increased prices Americans have paid for food they eat at home since December, the White House said. And the administration sees those companies collecting too much profit after the stimulus helped prop up demand for their products.

“We’ve helped sustain this market, and it’s frustrating to see these companies turn around and raise prices,” Bharat Ramamurti, the deputy director of the White House’s National Economic Council, said in an interview. “What we see here smacks of pandemic profiteering and that is the behavior the administration finds concerning.”

Rising inflation has posed a serious threat to Biden’s efforts to get a grip on the COVID-19 pandemic – his top priority as president – and engineer an economic recovery from the recession it caused.

The Biden administration has responded to these issues partly by ramping up efforts to crack down on what it sees as anticompetitive and monopolistic behavior that could be increasing prices. A meeting of a new White House Competition Council created by Biden is set for Friday.

USDA and the Department of Justice have already been conducting an investigation into price-fixing in the chicken-processing industry.

“The goal of that over time is to bring these prices down,” said Ramamurti.

U.S. lawmakers are seeking increased oversight of the beef sector as concerns about anticompetitive behavior increase after the pandemic and a cyberattack on JBS USA.

The administration is “encouraged” by bipartisan legislation that could aid more price negotiation in the meat market, it said in the blog.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington, Additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago and Chuck Mikolajczak in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

U.S. job growth takes giant step back as Delta variant hits restaurants

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy created the fewest jobs in seven months in August as hiring in the leisure and hospitality sector stalled amid a resurgence in COVID-19 infections, which weighed on demand at restaurants and hotels.

But other details of the Labor Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday were fairly strong, with the unemployment rate falling to a 17-month low of 5.2% and July job growth revised sharply higher. Wages increased a solid 0.6% and fewer people were experiencing long spells of unemployment.

This points to underlying strength in the economy even as growth appears to be slowing significantly in the third quarter because of the soaring infections, driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, and relentless shortages of raw materials, which are depressing automobile sales and restocking.

“It is important to keep the right perspective,” said Brian Bethune, professor of practice at Boston College. “Given the supply chain constraints and the ongoing battle to lasso COVID-19 to the ground, the economy is performing exceptionally well.”

The survey of establishments showed nonfarm payrolls increased by 235,000 jobs last month, the smallest gain since January. Data for July was revised up to show a whopping 1.053 million jobs created instead of the previously reported 943,000.

Hiring in June was also stronger than initially estimated, leaving average monthly job growth over the past three months at a strong 750,000. Employment is 5.3 million jobs below its peak in February 2020. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast nonfarm payrolls increasing by 728,000 jobs in August.

Though the Delta variant was the biggest drag, fading fiscal stimulus was probably another factor. The response rate to the survey is lower in August and the pandemic has made it harder to adjust education employment for seasonal fluctuations.

The initial August payrolls print has undershot expectations over the last several years, including in 2020. Payrolls have been subsequently revised higher in 11 of the last 12 years.

“The August payroll figures have historically been revised higher in the years since the Great Recession, sometimes significantly, and there’s a good chance this effect will occur again this time,” said David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide in Ohio.

Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector was unchanged after gains averaging 377,000 per month over the prior three months. Restaurants and bars payrolls fell 42,000 and hiring at hotels and motels decreased 34,600, offsetting a 36,000 gain in arts, entertainment and recreation jobs. Retailers shed 29,000 jobs.

Construction lost 3,000 jobs. There were gains in mining, financial services, information and professional and business services as well as transportation and warehousing.

Manufacturing added 37,000 jobs, led by a 24,100 increase in the automobile industry. Factory hiring remains constrained by input shortages, especially semiconductors, which have depressed motor vehicle production and sales.

General Motors and Ford Motor Co announced production cuts this week.

Motor vehicle sales tumbled 10.7% in August.

That, together with raw materials shortages, which are making it harder for businesses to replenish inventories, prompted economists at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan to slash third-quarter GDP growth estimates to as low as a 3.5% annualized rate from as high as a 8.25% pace. The economy grew at a 6.6% pace in the second quarter.

Government payrolls fell by 8,000 in August as state government education lost 21,000 jobs. August is the start of the back-to-school season, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles the employment report cautioned that “pandemic-related staffing fluctuations in public and private education have distorted the normal seasonal hiring and layoff patterns.”

Stocks on Wall Street were mixed. The dollar slipped against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices fell.

SILVER LININGS

Details of the smaller household survey from which the unemployment rate is derived were fairly upbeat.

Household employment increased by 509,000 jobs, enough to push the unemployment rate to 5.2%, the lowest since March 2020 from 5.4% in July. The jobless rates, however, continued to be understated by people misclassifying themselves as being “employed but absent from work.” Without this problem, the jobless rate would have been 5.5%.

Even so, a broader measure of unemployment, which includes people who want to work but have given up searching and those working part-time because they cannot find full-time employment, dropped to a 17-month low of 8.8% from 9.2% in July.

Though the participation rate was steady at 61.7%, about 190,000 people entered the labor force last month. Even more encouraging, the number of permanent job losers declined 443,000 to 2.5 million. The number of long-term unemployed dropped to 3.2 million from 3.4 million in the prior month.

They accounted for 37.4% of the 8.4 million officially unemployed people, down from 39.3% in July. The duration of unemployment fell to 14.7 weeks from 15.2 weeks in July.

Economists did not believe the pullback in hiring was enough for the Federal Reserve to back away from its “this year” signal for the announcement of the scaling back of its massive monthly bond buying program, given strong wage growth.

“For the Fed a taper announcement is still likely coming in either November or December,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan in New York.

The 0.6% jump in average hourly earnings after a 0.4% rise in July boosted annual wage growth to 4.3% in August from 4.0% in the prior month. The increase, led by lower-paying industries, is the result of worker shortages caused by the pandemic. There were a record 10.1 million job openings at the end of June.

There is cautious optimism that the labor pool will increase because of schools reopening and government-funded benefits expiring on Monday. But the Delta variant could delay the return to the labor force by some of the unemployed in the near term.

About 41,000 women, 20 years and older, dropped out the labor force. The number of number of people saying they were unable to work because of the pandemic increased 497,000 in August, the first rise since December. There was also a slight rise in the number of people working from home.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

U.S. manufacturing activity rises; shortages linger

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON(Reuters) – U.S. manufacturing activity unexpectedly picked up in August amid strong order growth, but a measure of factory employment dropped to a nine-month low, likely as workers remained scarce.

The survey from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) on Wednesday continued to highlight persistent problems securing enough raw materials, a situation worsened by disruptions caused by the latest wave of COVID-19 infections, primarily in Southeast Asia, as well as ports congestion in China.

“A surprising turn of events for manufacturing activity in the U.S., but it doesn’t change the story of supply disruptions and shortages holding back stronger growth,” said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.

The ISM said its index of national factory activity inched up to 59.9 last month from a reading of 59.5 in July. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in manufacturing, which accounts for 11.9% of the U.S. economy. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the index falling to 58.6.

Manufacturing is holding up even as spending is rotating back to services from goods because of vaccinations against COVID-19. All of the six largest manufacturing industries, including computer and electronic products, chemical products and transportation equipment reported moderate to strong growth.

Manufacturers of computer and electronic products said while a global semiconductor shortage was impacting supply lines, they had so far “been able to manage it without impacting clients.”

Chemical goods producers said they continued to “see extended lead times due to port delays and sea container tightness.” Transportation equipment makers reported that “strong sales continue, but production is limited due to supply issues with chips.”

The ISM survey’s forward-looking new orders sub-index rebounded to a reading of 66.7 last month after two straight monthly declines. Fourteen out of 18 manufacturing industries, furniture and related products, machinery and electrical equipment, appliances and components reported growth in new orders. Only nonmetallic mineral products reported a drop.

Demand is being driven by businesses desperate to replenish stocks after inventories were drawn down sharply in the first half of the year. Inventory accumulation, which is expected to be the main driver of economic growth for the rest of this year and into 2022, has been frustrated by the supply constraints.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher. The dollar slipped against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were mixed.

INFLATION ABATING

Scarce inputs have boosted prices for both manufacturers and consumers. But there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. The ISM measure of delivery performance of suppliers to manufacturing organizations eased further in August, indicating some improvement in the pace of deliveries.

The survey’s measure of prices paid by manufacturers fell to an eight-month low of 79.4 from a reading of 85.7 in July. This measure has dropped from a record 92.1 in June.

It was the latest indication that inflation has probably peaked. Data last week showed the Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation measure recorded its smallest monthly gain in five months in July.

But worker shortages persist, with ISM chair Timothy Fiore highlighting “a clear cycle of labor turnover as workers opt for more attractive job conditions.”

A measure of factory employment contracted last month and fell to its lowest level since November.

Together with the ADP National Employment Report, which showed on Wednesday that private payrolls increased by 374,000 jobs last month after rising 326,000 in July, the ISM factory index poses a downside risk to job growth in August. Economists had forecast the ADP report would show private payrolls increased by 613,000 jobs.

The ADP report is jointly developed with Moody’s Analytics and was published ahead of the Labor Department’s more comprehensive and closely watched employment report for August on Friday. But it has a dismal record predicting the private payrolls count in the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment report because of methodology differences.

According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls likely increased by 728,000 jobs last month after rising 943,000 in July.

“ADP is far from consistent in predicting changes in the BLS payrolls data,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency economics in White Plains, New York. “Overall, job growth has strengthened in recent months, even as companies continue to report labor supply shortages.”

The pandemic has upended the labor market dynamics, creating worker shortages even as 8.7 million people are officially unemployed. The were a record 10.1 million job openings at the end of June. Lack of affordable child care, fears of contracting the coronavirus, generous unemployment benefits funded by the federal government as well as pandemic-related retirements and career changes have been blamed for the disconnect.

The labor shortage is expected to ease starting in September. The government-funded unemployment benefits lapse on Sept. 6 and schools are reopening for in-person learning.

But the resurgence in new COVID-19 cases, driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, could cause reluctance among some people to return to the labor force.

The labor shortages led to a building up of the backlog of uncompleted work at factories in August.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Drought may force Brazil to ration power, says Vice President Mourao

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao said on Wednesday a severe drought could lead to energy rationing in Brazil, contradicting other officials who have said that such a step would not be necessary.

Brazil, one of the world’s agricultural superpowers, is suffering from one of its worst droughts in a century. The lack of rainfall has emptied hydroelectric reservoirs, fanned inflation and hurt farmers. The government has given incentives to use less energy but says rationing is not expected.

“There may have to be some rationing,” Mourao told reporters in Brasilia, although he said the government had taken necessary measures to prevent blackouts.

Brazil’s Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque on Tuesday said the country’s energy crisis was worse than previously thought. In a televised national address, Albuquerque said Brazil had lost hydropower output equal to the energy consumed by the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest, in five months.

Separately on Tuesday, the ministry announced it would once again raise energy prices, with affected consumers paying on average 6.78% more for electricity starting on Sept. 1.

The meteorological outlook remains grim for Brazil. Rainfall in energy-producing regions is likely to remain well below average in September, the national grid operator ONS said last week.

(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter in Rio de Janeiro and Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia; editing by Barbara Lewis)

U.S. consumer confidence falls to 6-month low; house prices post record gains

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. consumer confidence fell to a six-month low in August as concerns about soaring COVID-19 infections and higher inflation dampened the outlook for the economy.

The survey from the Conference Board on Tuesday also showed consumers were less upbeat about the labor market. They were less inclined to buy a home and big-ticket items like motor vehicles and major household appliances over the next six months, supporting the view that consumer spending will cool in the third quarter after two straight quarters of double-digit growth.

Still, more consumers planned to go on vacation, indicating a rotation in spending from goods to services was underway as economic activity continues to normalize following the upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Increased spending on services, which account for the bulk of economic activity, should keep a floor under consumer spending.

“While the resurgence of COVID-19 and inflation concerns have dampened confidence, it is too soon to conclude this decline will result in consumers significantly curtailing their spending in the months ahead,” said Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at the Conference Board in Washington.

It mirrored the University of Michigan’s survey of consumers, which showed sentiment tumbling in August because of rising prices for goods like food and gasoline, as well as the resurgence in COVID-19 cases that has been driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

The Conference Board’s so-called labor market differential, derived from data on respondents’ views on whether jobs are plentiful or hard to get, slipped to 42.8 this month from 44.1 in July. This measure closely correlates to the unemployment rate in the Labor Department’s closely watched employment report.

Fewer households intended to buy long-lasting manufactured goods such as motor vehicles and household appliances like washing machines and clothes dryers, the survey showed. But the share of consumers planning to go on vacations rose, with most expecting to travel domestically and many intending to fly to their destinations. That should help to offset the drag from reduced spending on goods.

Despite the anticipated slowdown, the foundation for consumer spending remains strong, with households sitting on at least $2.5 trillion in excess savings accumulated during the pandemic. Gross domestic product growth estimates for the third quarter are around a 5% annualized rate. The economy grew at a 6.6% pace in the second quarter.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading mostly lower after recent strong gains. The dollar was largely flat against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were lower.

HOME PRICES JUMP

The Conference Board survey also showed less enthusiasm among consumers for home purchases over the next six months amid higher house prices, which are sidelining some first-time buyers from the market.

Demand for housing soared early in the pandemic as Americans sought more spacious accommodations for home offices and home schooling, but supply severely lagged, fueling house price growth. COVID-19 vaccinations have allowed some employers to recall workers to offices. Schools and universities have reopened for in-person learning.

A separate report on Tuesday showed the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index jumped a record 18.6% in June from a year ago after rising 16.8% in May. Economists, however, believe that house price inflation has peaked, with homes becoming less affordable especially for first-time buyers.

“Some early data suggests that the buyer frenzy experienced this spring is tapering, though many buyers still remain in the market,” said Selma Hepp, deputy chief economist at CoreLogic. “Nevertheless, less competition and more for-sale homes suggest we may be seeing the peak of home price acceleration. Going forward, home price growth may ease off but stay in the double digits through year-end.”

A separate report from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) showed its house price index rose a record 18.8% in the 12 months through June. House prices surged 17.4% in the second quarter compared to the same period in 2020. FHFA believes house prices peaked in June.

The FHFA index is calculated by using purchase prices of houses financed with mortgages sold to or guaranteed by mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

U.S. employment growth through March revised modestly lower

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy likely created 166,000 fewer jobs in the 12 months through March than previously estimated, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics said on Wednesday.

The reading is a preliminary estimate of the BLS’ annual “benchmark” revision to the closely watched payrolls data. The leisure and hospitality sector, which was hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, accounted for the bulk of the revision, with employment growth revised down by 597,000 or 4.6%.

Leisure and hospitality employment is 1.7 million below its peak in February 2020, though the industry has led the labor market recovery from the pandemic.

“It is somewhat ambiguous what this means for future employment in this sector beyond March 2021,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York.

“This could suggest that more jobs need to be added to return closer to pre-pandemic levels but also that the pandemic-related hit to that sector was more severe and or longer-lasting than previously reported.”

But the transportation and warehousing sector added 247,900 more jobs than previously thought, while professional and business services payrolls were revised up by 214,000. Government employment was raised by 255,000 jobs.

Once a year, the BLS compares its non-farm payrolls data, based on monthly surveys of a sample of employers, with a much more complete database of unemployment insurance tax records.

A final benchmark revision will be released in February along with the BLS’ report on employment for January. Government statisticians will use the final benchmark count to revise payroll data for months both prior to and after March.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.S. consumer sentiment plummets in early August to decade low

By Evan Sully and Lindsay Dunsmuir

(Reuters) -U.S. consumer sentiment dropped sharply in early August to its lowest level in a decade, in a worrying sign for the economy as Americans gave faltering outlooks on everything from personal finances to inflation and employment, a survey showed on Friday.

The unexpected reading could give Federal Reserve policymakers pause if it translates in the months ahead to a dent in economic activity. The central bank has been getting closer to a decision on when to begin pulling back the extraordinary stimulus it put in place to shield the economy from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University of Michigan said its preliminary consumer sentiment index fell to 70.2 in the first half of this month from a final reading of 81.2 in July. That was the lowest level since 2011, and there have been only two larger declines in the index over the past 50 years. Those were at the depths of the 2007-2009 recession and during the first wave of shutdowns in April 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.

The losses were widespread across income, age, and education subgroups and spanned all regions. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the index would remain unchanged at 81.2.

U.S. stock market indexes slipped immediately after the report was released, while the price of gold gained ground. U.S. Treasury bond yields hit session lows.

“The renewed plunge suggests the latest wave of virus cases driven by the Delta variant could be a bigger drag on the economy than we had thought,” said Andrew Hunter, an economist at Capital Economics.

Economic growth is still expected to grow this year at its fastest pace in four decades after falling into a brief recession in 2020 caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But the recovery is showing some indication of cooling off.

COVID-19 cases have doubled in the past two weeks to reach a six-month peak as the more transmissible Delta variant spreads rapidly across the country. Labor shortages across the service sector also persist while supply chain disruptions have continued.

“The pandemic’s resurgence due to the Delta variant has been met with a mixture of reason and emotion…mainly from dashed hopes that the pandemic would soon end,” Richard Curtin, the survey director, said in a statement.

The survey’s gauge of current economic conditions also declined to a reading of 77.9 from 84.5 in July while its measure of consumer expectations slid to 65.2 from 79.0 in July.

The survey also showed consumers raising their expectations for medium term inflation, another measure the central bank is closely monitoring to ensure that inflation expectations remain anchored.

The survey’s one-year inflation expectation edged lower to 4.6%, down from 4.7%, but its five-year inflation outlook ticked up to 3.0% from 2.8% in July.

Consumer price increases slowed in July, the Labor Department said on Wednesday, but inflation overall remained at a historically high level amid lingering supply-chain disruptions and stronger demand for travel-related services.

(Reporting by Evan Sully and Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Dollar falls as U.S. consumer price rises temper in July, data show

By John McCrank

NEW YORK (Reuters) -The dollar fell on Wednesday after U.S. inflation data showed consumer price increases eased in July, taking some pressure off the Federal Reserve to begin scaling back the monthly bond purchases that are part of its toolbox to support the economic recovery.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of other major currencies, was down 0.17% at 92.915 at 3:05 p.m. ET (1905 GMT).

Earlier, the U.S. currency hit 93.195, its highest since April 1, and not far off of its 2021 high of 93.439, but it sold off after data showed the consumer price index rose 0.5% last month after climbing 0.9% in June. Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI rose 0.3% after increasing 0.9% in June.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast overall CPI would rise 0.5% and core CPI 0.4%.

While prices are still rising, the Fed has said it expects inflationary pressures to moderate over time as supply catches up with demand following months of COVID-19 lockdowns.

“The CPI report was enough to cause a bit of profit taking for the U.S. dollar, but at the end of the day, it’s not a game changer for the Fed,” said Kathy Lien, managing director at BK Asset Management. “They’re still going to be announcing taper,” likely within the next six weeks.

The greenback had enjoyed a lift from last week’s better-than-expected U.S. jobs data, as well as from remarks by Fed officials about tapering bond purchases and, eventually, raising rates, sooner than policymakers elsewhere.

Looking forward, the Fed will depend on data when it comes to the timing of the dialing back of its asset purchases, said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA.

“It’s all going to be all about next month’s employment report and if that does not impress, tapering, as far September goes, might even get pushed out towards the end of the year,” he said.

In Europe, investor sentiment has declined, with a survey showing a third straight month of deterioration in Germany as rising global COVID-19 cases keep markets on edge.

“Investors have to take on board the possibility of news on Fed tapering at a time when COVID is still very apparent in various parts of the world,” said Rabobank analyst Jane Foley.

“The consequence of this is likely to be a firmer dollar,” she added, especially if the euro breaches its 2021 low.

The euro gained 0.16% against the greenback, to 1.17395, following six straight sessions of losses and having fallen as low as 1.1706 in early deals in Europe, near the year’s low of $1.1704.

Sterling gained 0.2% to 1.38645 against the dollar, pulling back from a two-week low.

The yen was up 0.12% at 110.445, after dropping for five consecutive sessions against the dollar.

South Korea reported a record number of COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, while outbreaks in China, Southeast Asia and Australia grow steadily.

The Australian dollar and the New Zealand dollar , seen as riskier currencies, rose after the U.S. CPI report, last up 0.33% and 0.5% respectively.

In cryptocurrencies, bitcoin touched $46,787.60, its highest since May 17. Bitcoin was last up 1.5% at $46,304.54, while ether, the second-biggest cryptocurrency, was up 2.7% at $3,226.18.

(Reporting by John McCrank in New York; additional reporting by Ritvik Carvalho in London; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Marguerita Choy)

U.S. labor market powers ahead with strong job gains, lower unemployment rate

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. employers hired the most workers in nearly a year in July and continued to raise wages, giving the economy a powerful boost as it started the second half of what many economists believe will be the best year for growth in almost four decades.

The Labor Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday also showed the unemployment rate dropped to a 16-month low of 5.4% and more people waded back into the labor force. The report followed on the heels of news last week that the economy fully recovered in the second quarter the sharp loss in output suffered during the very brief pandemic recession.

“We are charting new economic expansion territory in the third quarter,” said Brian Bethune, professor of practice at Boston College in Boston. “The overall momentum of the recovery continues to build.”

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 943,000 jobs last month, the largest gain since August 2020, the survey of establishments showed. Data for May and June were revised to show 119,000 more jobs created than previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls would increase by 870,000 jobs.

The economy has created 4.3 million jobs this year, leaving employment 5.7 million jobs below its peak in February 2020.

President Joe Biden cheered the strong employment report. “More than 4 million jobs created since we took office,” Biden wrote on Twitter. “It’s historic – and proof our economic plan is working.”

Hiring is being fueled by pent-up demand for workers in the labor-intensive services sector. Nearly $6 trillion in pandemic relief money from the government and COVID-19 vaccinations are driving domestic demand.

But a resurgence in infections, driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, could discourage some unemployed people from returning to the labor force.

July’s employment report could bring the Federal Reserve a step closer to announcing plans to start scaling back its monthly bond-buying program. The U.S. central bank last year slashed its benchmark overnight interest rate to near zero and is pumping money into the economy through the bond purchases.

“This is the last employment report Chair (Jerome) Powell sees before Jackson Hole, and we have to imagine that he lays the groundwork for a potential September tapering announcement,” said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economic advisor at Brean Capital in New York. “We think the odds continue to rise that tapering begins before the end of 2021.”

Stocks on Wall Street rose, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 index hitting record highs. The dollar jumped against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices fell.

BROAD EMPLOYMENT GAINS

Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector increased by 380,000 jobs, accounting for 40% of the job gains, with payrolls at restaurants and bars advancing by 253,000.

Government payrolls increased by a whopping 240,000 jobs as employment in local government education rose by 221,000. Education jobs were flattered by a seasonal quirk.

Hiring was also strong in the professional and business services, transportation and warehousing, and healthcare industries. Manufacturing payrolls increased by 27,000 jobs, while construction employment rebounded by 11,000 jobs. Retail trade and utilities were the only sectors to shed jobs.

Details of the smaller household survey from which the unemployment rate is derived were also upbeat. Household employment shot up by 1.043 million jobs, leading the unemployment rate to decline half a percentage point to its lowest level since March 2020.

The jobless rate, however, continued to be understated by people misclassifying themselves as being “employed but absent from work.” Without this misclassification, the unemployment rate would have been 5.7% in July.

About 261,000 people entered the labor force, lifting the participation rate to 61.7% from 61.6% in June. The employment-to-population ratio, viewed as a measure of an economy’s ability to create employment, rose to 58.4% from 58% in June.

Even more encouraging, the number of long-term unemployed dropped to 3.4 million from 4 million in the prior month. They accounted for 39.3% of the 8.7 million officially unemployed people, down from 42.1% in June. The duration of unemployment fell to 15.2 weeks from 19.8 weeks in June.

There was also an improvement in the number of people who have permanently lost their jobs. With economic growth this year expected to be around 7%, which would be the fastest since 1984, further recovery is expected.

Faced with a record 9.2 million job openings, employers continued to raise wages to attract workers. Average hourly earnings increased 0.4% last month, with sharp gains in the hospitality industry. That followed a similar rise in June and lifted the year-on-year increase in wages to 4.0% from 3.7%.

Lack of affordable child care and fears of contracting the coronavirus have been blamed for keeping workers, mostly women, at home. There also have been pandemic-related retirements as well as career changes. Republicans and business groups have blamed enhanced unemployment benefits, including a $300 weekly payment from the federal government, for the labor crunch.

Half of the nation’s states led by Republican governors have ended these federal benefits before their Sept. 6 expiration. Economists are cautiously optimistic that the worker shortage will ease in the fall when schools reopen for in-person learning and sustain the strong pace of hiring.

“August should be another big month, and September as well, as there are still millions who need to find work quickly,” said Chris Low, chief economist at FHN Financial in New York.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Dan Burns and Paul Simao)

Fed’s Waller: ‘Go early and go fast’ on taper

By Ann Saphir

(Reuters) – Federal Reserve Governor Christopher Waller on Monday said the U.S. central bank could start to reduce its support for the economy by October if the next two monthly jobs reports each show employment rising by 800,000 to 1 million, as he expects.

“We should go early and go fast, in order to make sure we’re in position to raise rates in 2022, if we have to,” Waller said in an interview on CNBC, adding that he could see the Fed announcing a reducing in its monthly bond purchases in September and a start to that reduction in October.

And once the Fed begins the process, Waller said, “There’s no reason you’d want to go slow on the taper, to prolong it – you want to get it done and get it over.”

The Fed is buying $80 billion in Treasuries and $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities each month to help push downward on borrowing costs and speed the recovery. It has said it will continue to make purchases at that pace until the economy makes “substantial further progress” toward the Fed’s goals of full employment and 2% inflation.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell said last week the job market recovery is still “a ways off” from the point where it would be appropriate for the Fed to start paring its bond purchases.

Speaking Friday, Fed Governor Lael Brainard echoed that sentiment, indicating in a speech Friday that she would want to have data from the September jobs report – not available until early October — to make such a decision.

To Waller, an increase of some 1.6 million to 2 million jobs in July and August would mean that the economy will have regained 85% of its job losses, Waller said. That, in his view, meets the “substantial further progress” bar for tapering.

The government is due to release its July report on Friday, and economists estimate it will show U.S. employers added about 880,000 jobs last month.

Waller’s former boss, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, on Friday also called for the Fed to begin reducing its bond-buying by the fall.

Most on Wall Street have been expecting the taper to start late in 2021 or in 2022.

Waller said he does not believe the Delta variant of the coronavirus will “sideline” the economy. He added that while he believes the recent hot readings on inflation will subside later in the year, there’s “upside risk” to that expectation.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Nick Zieminski)