Recovery on best stretch of job data in 17 years

February 6, 2015 08:52 AM

Looking Stateside

Italian pasta-maker Barilla Holding SpA is expanding its operations -- and hiring -- in the U.S. as the economy strengthens and Europe lags behind.

“The economy in general in North America is doing better than what Europe is doing,” said Fabio Pettenati, the Chicago- based vice president of supply chain at Barilla America. “There is definitely more potential.”

The company is adding 23 jobs at its plant in Ames, Iowa, to boost production of its gluten-free pasta, which is currently imported. The product has seen rapid growth since its 2013 U.S. introduction.

The average workweek for all employees held at 34.6 hours, the Labor Department’s report showed.

Even as job growth has firmed over the past year, a pickup in wage growth has been slower to take hold. Fed policy makers are closely monitoring worker pay as they consider a time table for their first increase in borrowing costs since 2006.

Falling commodity costs and weakness in overseas economies have been slowing inflation, which is below the central bank’s target of 2%.

Inflation “is anticipated to decline further in the near term,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in a Jan. 28 statement. Meanwhile, “labor market conditions have improved further, with strong job gains and a lower unemployment rate.”

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg from Jan. 9 to Jan. 14 projected the economy will add 230,000 jobs per month this year, with an average unemployment rate of 5.4%.

Staffing Agencies

Staffing firm Robert Half International Inc. has been among companies seeing the improvement in the labor market firsthand. Sales and earnings at the Menlo Park, California-based company that works on temporary and permanent placements beat analysts’ estimates amid growing demand for its services.

“The U.S. labor market has strengthened in recent months, and skill shortages persist in professional disciplines such as accounting and information technology,” Chief Executive Officer Harold Messmer said on a Jan. 29 earnings call.

The company is seeing “classic signs that the labor markets are heating up, that candidates are getting tighter, that a larger and larger premium is placed by our clients on recruiting of candidates,” the company’s Chief Financial Officer Keith Waddell said on the call.

The Labor Department’s figures also included its annual benchmark update, which aligns employment data with corporate tax records. The revision showed payrolls grew by an additional 67,000 workers, on an unadjusted basis, from April 2013 to March 2014.

Additionally, the agency incorporated new Census Bureau population estimates into the household survey. The adjustment boosted the estimated size of the labor force by 348,000.

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