US employers may post a 5th month of solid hiring

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 10, 2014 at 6:15 am •  Published: January 10, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — Healthy U.S. economic growth in the second half of last year has raised expectations that 2013 ended with a fifth straight month of solid hiring.

Economists predict that employers added 196,000 jobs last month, according to a survey by FactSet. That would be nearly as strong as November's robust gain of 203,000. The unemployment rate is forecast to remain at a five-year low of 7 percent.

The Labor Department will release the December employment report at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time Friday.

From August through November, the economy added an average of 204,000 jobs a month. Another month of 200,000 or so new jobs would suggest that employers are hiring at a sustained pace. That's what policymakers and job hunters have hoped for since the Great Recession ended more than 4½ years ago.

"I think the economy's finally moving into third gear here," said Ethan Harris, global economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Steady job gains were a big reason the Federal Reserve decided last month to cut back on its monthly bond purchases, which are intended to lower long-term loan rates to stimulate spending and growth. The Fed is paring its bond buying to $75 billion a month from $85 billion. It is likely to further reduce its pace of purchases if the strong job gains continue.

Recent data have painted a picture of an economy on the steady rise. Exports hit a record level in November, lowering the U.S. trade deficit. Businesses have ordered more manufactured goods. Auto sales reached a six-year high in 2013.

Analysts now estimate that the economy expanded at a healthy annual rate of 3 percent to 3.5 percent in the October-December quarter. That's up from earlier forecasts of a 2 percent rate or less. It would follow a strong 4.1 percent growth rate reported for the July-September quarter.