U.S. stock futures jumped by triple digits on Friday after employers helped drive the best job growth since July 2016. U.S. employers added 313,000 jobs in February, far surpassing expectations for an increase of 200,000 jobs after January’s better-than-expected reading, the Labor Department reported.
The unemployment rate remained at 4.1%, the lowest rate in more than 17 years, while the labor force participation rate increased to 63% from 62.7% during the month. That metric gauges the percentage of working-age Americans who are working or looking for work.
Average hourly earnings meanwhile increased by $0.04 to $26.75, while wage growth rose by 2.6%, slightly slower than January's 2.9% increase.
Goods-producing industries such as construction, manufacturing as well as mining and logging, collectively, had the highest month-to-month growth since 1998. Job creation numbers for January and December were revised higher, according to the monthly report.
Although unemployment fell to the lowest rate since December 2000, the U.S. economy still can't seem to reduce the number of unemployed Americans who have given up trying to find work.
Analysts were also closely watching wage growth, which Bankrate.com senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick said is the most important aspect of the report. In January, when the reading came in 2.9% over the previous year, the 10-year Treasury yield spiked, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate hit its highest point in four years and stock prices slumped.
But average hourly wages only increased a modest 2.6% year-over-year – a number that should temporarily ease inflation worries, said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist and managing director of TD Ameritrade.
"If you wrote the script for what you would like the number to be, this is the perfect number," Kinahan said. "You saw incredible growth in the economy, while not spooking anyone with wages."
The jobs numbers come on the heels of a report Wednesday from payroll processing firm ADP, which revealed that private employers added 235,000 jobs in February, up just slightly from 234,000 in January.
That better-than-expected number adds to concerns that inflation may accelerate, and that the Federal Reserve could hike interest rate four times, rather than three, in 2018 – in turn slowing the economy and sending stocks down.
Fed officials are holding a key policy-setting session later this month to evaluate growth, employment and inflation. The March 21 meeting could dampen the rallying markets, Kinahan warned. A majority of economists – 42% – surveyed by Bankrate.com are expecting four or more rate hikes this year; 37% are projecting three increases.
During testimony before the House Financial Services Committee in February, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell signaled that, despite Fed plans for three rate hikes in 2018, rising inflation could prompt the bank to be even more aggressive. Wall Street already experienced a tumultuous month, with February marking the worst month for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 since January 2016. White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short will join FOX Business’ Stuart Varney at 10 a.m. ET for a full analysis of the latest data and what it means for U.S. workers and the economy.