U.S. job gains roared back in November as unemployment matched a half-century low and wages topped estimates, giving the Federal Reserve more reason to hold interest rates steady after three straight cuts.
Payrolls jumped 266,000, the most since January, after an upwardly revised 156,000 advance the prior month, according to a Labor Department release Friday that topped all estimates in a Bloomberg survey calling for 180,000 jobs. It was the first full month that General Motors Co. workers returned to work after a 40-day strike, adding 41,300 to automaker payrolls following a similar drop the prior month.
Stocks in the U.S. climbed on the report, while Treasuries fell and the dollar rose.
The jobless rate dipped to 3.5%, matching the lowest since 1969. Average hourly earnings climbed 3.1% from a year earlier, exceeding projections, and the prior month was revised higher. Private employment jumped by 254,000.
The data back the Fed's view that the labor market remains strong, supporting consumers and continued economic growth. That may give the central bank more room to keep interest rates on hold at their meeting next week amid the uncertainty of President Donald Trump's prolonged trade talks with China. Wage gains should also support holiday shopping and ease concerns about a slowdown.
"It's a significant surprise because economists were ready to go with the idea that payroll growth was slowing down because the job market had gotten tight," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont. "The whole tenor has changed in terms of job growth. We're back at steady-as-she-goes at a robust pace."
Revisions added 41,000 jobs for the prior two months, bringing the three-month average to a 10-month high of 205,000.
The report adds to recent data pointing to an economy holding up amid headwinds. Jobless claims remain near a half-century low, service-sector activity is expanding and consumer sentiment is within reach of the best levels of the expansion.
"Bloomberg Economics is lowering its projection of the 2020 year-end unemployment rate to 3.3% from 3.4%. Hiring momentum continues to surpass the growth rate of the labor force, which is closer to 100k-125k per month," Bloomberg economists Carl Riccadonna and Yelena Shulyatyeva wrote in a note. "On Nov. 3, 2020, as voters head to the polls, they will be facing the lowest election day unemployment rate since Dwight Eisenhower won his first term as president in 1952."
Manufacturers rebounded, adding 54,000 jobs after a 43,000 drop the prior month, mostly reflecting GM workers returning to work. Despite the boost, factories have faltered amid weak global demand and U.S.-China trade tensions that have curbed business expansion plans.
Job gains were broad-based across industries, led by a 206,000 gain for private service providers that was the best since January.
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and other policy makers have said the labor market remains strong enough to maintain a stable economy. That's contributed to expectations the central bank will hold rates through the end of 2021.