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Economic Watch: Trucking Continues to Help Employers Add Jobs

January 6, 2017

By Evan Lockridge

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The for-hire trucking industry was partly to thank for the 156,000 non-farm jobs additions in the U.S. during December, according to new Labor Department figures. A separate report shows manufacturing remains healthy despite small declines in new orders.

Despite the overall employment gain, the unemployment rate moved up a fraction to 4.7% from a post-recession low of 4.6% in November, as more people began looking for work after sitting on the sidelines. However, the fourth quarter 2016 average of 4.7% is down from 4.9% in the third quarter.

Trucking added 1,400 jobs last month, while the wider transportation and warehousing sector contributed to a 14,700-job increase, with many of these additions happening in the couriers and messengers category. Other sectors seeing big gains were health care, social assistance, food services and manufacturing. For all of 2016, for-hire trucking added 10,000 jobs, with most of the improvement coming in the latter half of the year, following losses in the first half.

The overall jobs gain in December is less than a consensus estimate from Wall Street analysts. The number of November jobs gains was revised higher and October was revised lower, but still met projections for the year’s end. For all of 2016, monthly job growth averaged 180,000 per month, down from the 2015 monthly rate of 229,000.

The Labor Department also reported annual earnings for workers in December increased 2.9% over the past 12 months, the best annual performance since 2009.

“A weaker-than-expected headline rise at year-end was somewhat disappointing at first glance, offset, however, by an upward revision to the prior month," said Stifel Fixed Income Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza. "Furthermore, the unemployment rate ticked up one-tenth, reflecting a lack of employment relative to the number of new and returning job seekers, but remains at the lower bound of what the Federal Reserve considers full-employment."

She believes that Fed policy makers ideally would have liked to see an outright solid finish to the year with payrolls unquestionably gaining momentum.

“Nevertheless, with wages on the rise and payrolls solid for more than six years, the Fed is no doubt taking a healthy celebratory lap, feeling confident after this morning's report in their decision to hike at year-end, and cautiously optimistic as they look out to the New Year,” Piegza said.

Factory Orders, Shipments Fall; Manufacturing Remains Strong

A separate report released Friday shows the level of new factory orders in the U.S fell for the first time in four months in November. The 2.4% drop follows a 2.8% October gain.

According to CNBC, much of the decline was due to a drop in the volatile civilian aircraft category. There is still a belief by many analysts that overall manufacturing in the U.S. continues improving.

Also, shipments of factory goods fell 0.1% in November from the month before, the first decline in three months, following a 0.2% rise in October.

On a much more positive note, an indicator of business investment, orders for nondefense capital goods minus aircraft, rose 0.9% in November while shipments of these goods increased 0.2%.

This follows news a few days earlier showing manufacturing in the U.S. ended 2016 on a high note, hitting its best level since 2014, according to two new reports.

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