NEW YORK (Reuters) - Employers hired more workers in February than in any month since May last year and the unemployment rate fell to a near two-year low, raising hopes the economic recovery has gathered critical momentum.
KEY POINTS: * Nonfarm payrolls increased 192,000, the Labor Department said on Friday, above market expectations for 185,000 jobs. Data for December and January was revised to show 58,000 more jobs created than previously estimated. * The peak of monthly employment last May was when payrolls were being boosted by government hiring for a census. The unemployment rate dipped to 8.9 percent, the lowest since April 2009, from 9.0 percent in January as more people reported finding work. * "We have moved into the expansion phase of the economic cycle and the economy is self-sustaining," said Brian Levitt, an economist at OppenheimerFunds in New York. * Still, February's bounce in employment after payrolls were depressed by extreme weather in January is unlikely to sway the Federal Reserve from its ultra-easy monetary policies.
MOHAMED EL-ERIAN, CO-CHIEF INVESTMENT OFFICER OF PACIFIC INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT CO., NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF.:
"The numbers confirm that labor market conditions are gradually improving. It is critical that the pace of improvement accelerate over the course of the year given the overall size of the unemployment problem, the decline in labor participation to 64 percent, the increase in the average duration of joblessness to 37 weeks, and the 24 percent teen unemployment rate."
PAUL MENDELSOHN, CHIEF INVESTMENT STRATEGIST, WINDHAM FINANCIAL SERVICES, CHARLOTTE, VERMONT:
"It was pretty much in line with estimates, we had a slight revision up from last month. Bond market is not doing anything here, the stock market had an original pop, now it's starting to come off. It was in line with expectations. My suspicion is the activity you saw yesterday was to make up for the money flow that usually comes in on the first of the month that waited in anticipation of a much stronger whisper number out there. So the market as we get into the day may be a little bit disappointed."
CHRISTOPHER LOW, CHIEF ECONOMIST, FTN FINANCIAL, NEW YORK
"They're exactly as expected but the problem with as expected is that the consensus was formed last Friday before we got ISM this week, and given that number we thought we would get something better. So the employment report remains out of step with the rest of the economic data.
"The recovery continues, the unemployment rate was down eight-tenths--but we need to see faster job growth if those near-nine million people who lost their jobs are going to get them back.
"The Fed's not going to start raising interest rates until we're close to a neutral unemployment rate which is still much lower. Obviously the White House is frustrated that job growth is still slow but as long as the labor markets are improving and particularly the unemployment rate is falling President Obama should be OK."
SEAN INCREMONA, ECONOMIST, 4CAST LTD, NEW YORK:
"It is not too impressive. This is a nice pick up from last month's disappointing results but the breakdown shows earnings were flat, hours are still low. Overall we are on the way to recovery but still not very impressive. Construction looks like it rebounded from weather related decline last month, so that helped.
"This is definitely another step on our way to recovery, but expectations really got ahead of themselves this time around, and this release overall will probably be seen as disappointing."
VIMOMBI NSHOM, ECONOMIST, IFR ECONOMICS, A UNIT OF THOMSON REUTERS:
"Related employment measures had indicated February's numbers would rebound (both ISMs employment components rose in February, and ADP estimated 217k jobs were created) and most of the sectors within this report that had job losses in January likely elevated by bad weather, are now showing growth. Averaging the two months of payrolls gives a steady job rate of 128k/month, which is more aligned with trend since payrolls turned positive in October."
MARK LUSCHINI, CHIEF INVESTMENT STRATEGIST, JANNEY MONTGOMERY SCOTT, PHILADELPHIA
"This is an on par reading, enough to satisfy those who were looking for a stronger number, but not enough to placate those who were looking for something well ahead of consensus to make up for the weather-related weakness last month. This is indicative of decent momentum in economic growth. It will be enough to make a dent in unemployment, though job creation isn't growing fast enough to lower the rate quickly."