Solid US jobs report expected amid sharp market volatility

Friday's jobs report for November is expected to point to a solid economy for most Americans, with steady hiring, a low unemployment rate and faster wage gains.

If so, it would provide a dose of welcome news after this week's frantic financial market gyrations, which have been driven by concerns that the U.S.-China trade war could escalate and weaken a U.S. economy already facing higher interest rates and slowing global growth.

Economists have forecast that Friday's figures will show that employers added a healthy 195,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate stayed at a five-decade low of 3.7%.

Most economists think growth will remain brisk despite the rampant worries of stock market investors. Still, analysts expect the economy and hiring to likely weaken somewhat in the coming months.

"Bottom-line, growth has slowed, but it's still strong," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics.

So far, that hasn't reassured Wall Street. The Dow Jones average plunged more than 700 points in early trading Thursday, before rebounding to close down just 77 points, or 0.3%. That followed Tuesday's nearly 800-point drop. (Markets had been closed Wednesday in observance of the death of former President George H.W. Bush.)

Investors are worried that the U.S.-China trade war could still intensify, despite an agreement over the weekend between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping that included postponing a planned U.S. tariff hike for 90 days. Higher tariffs would compound the risks for a global economy that is already grappling with dismal growth figures from Europe and Japan.

The interest rate paid by longer-term bonds has also fallen sharply in the past month, panicking investors, while short-term rates have declined by much less. That typically signals a weaker economy ahead.

And the Federal Reserve has raised short-term interest rates three times this year and is likely to do so a fourth time later this month, thereby raising borrowing costs for consumers and businesses. The Fed has signaled that it could increase rates again next year, potentially weakening the economy.

"The ability of investors to see clearly to a bright future has diminished," said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust.

If the Trump administration and China can't reach a deal by the end of the 90-day deadline, Trump could make good on his previous threats to hit more Chinese imports with duties. He has previously threatened to impose 25% tariffs on all imports from China. Separately, the president could also follow through on threats to impose import taxes on autos and auto parts.

Those actions would cut growth next year to as low as 1.5%, said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM, a consulting firm, and bring "a real risk of recession."

But Brusuelas thinks it's more likely that the two sides will make progress on their dispute or muddle through without imposing more tariffs.

Zandi and other economists forecast that growth will remain solid next year, at about 2.5%, down from a 3% pace this year.

Falling stock prices can sometimes slow the economy by discouraging consumers from spending, but the market hasn't fallen enough yet for that to occur, Zandi said. The major market indexes are down by roughly 8% from their peaks.

"When that happens, it's no big deal for the economy," he said.

Americans increased their spending in October by the most in seven months, and their incomes grew by the most in nine months, according to a government report last week. Consumer confidence remains near 18-year highs, surveys show. And both manufacturing and services companies expanded at a healthy pace in November, according to a pair of business surveys.

The housing market, though, has stumbled this year as the Fed's rate hikes have contributed to sharply higher mortgage rates. Sales of existing homes have fallen 5.4% from a year earlier, the biggest annual decline in more than four years.

With the unemployment rate so low, many companies are struggling to find enough workers to fill their open jobs. That's led many economists to forecast that hiring will slow next year. Brusuelas expects job gains to dip to 165,000 a month, on average, from 213,000 in the first 10 months of this year.

Yet analysts had predicted that hiring would slow for most of this year, but it didn't happen. Employers added a robust 250,000 jobs in October.

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