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Dow rises 800 points after blowout jobs report, comments by Federal Reserve head

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said he would not resign if President Trump asked him.
Image: A technician stocks pharmacy shelves in the White House Clinic in Berea, Kentucky, on February 7, 2018.
A technician stocks pharmacy shelves in the White House Clinic in Berea, Kentucky, on Feb. 7, 2018.Bryan Woolston / Reuters file

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 800 points on Friday morning after the monthly Labor Department jobs report showed the economy gained 312,000 jobs in December versus 176,000 expected.

The jobs report, released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, also showed that the unemployment rate ticked up to 3.9 percent as more people entered the workforce. Wage growth for the month was up four-tenths of a percent, for an annual increase of 3.2 percent.

The robust numbers indicate the labor market has remained largely immune to recent Wall Street whiplash and rumblings of an economic slowdown.

President Donald Trump praised the latest data during remarks in the White House Rose Garden on Friday afternoon, saying the "tremendous" jobs number was partly due to companies such as auto manufacturers repatriating to the U.S. after moving some of their production abroad.

"The December employment report continues to show just how impressive the labor market is as we kick off 2019," said Steve Rick, chief economist at CUNA Mutual Group. "After a disappointing November report, December’s strong performance quells any lingering feelings that a hiring plateau might have occurred from the impact of tariffs and recent market volatility."

Wall Street also focused Friday on comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who spoke at a monetary policy panel, along with former Fed heads Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke.

Powell said the Fed was "listening carefully" to markets that were pricing in downside risks such as "concerns on global growth and trade negotiations."

Powell spooked markets in December at his last appearance, when he failed to reassure Wall Street that the Fed was able to "feel the market," as President Donald Trump has termed the central bank's approach toward rate hikes. Investors will be listening closely for any kind of indication from Powell that the Fed will not tighten its grip on the economy in the face of an increasingly sluggish outlook.

When asked by the panel moderator if Powell had met with Trump to discuss the president's recent comments that the Fed head is to blame for market declines, Powell said he had not been approached.

“If the president asked you to resign, would you do it?” the moderator continued. “No,” replied Powell.

Despite strong market fundamentals, economists still see an escalated risk in the coming months, with market volatility and geopolitical concerns continuing to weigh on growth sentiment. And with the U.S. already at near-full employment, there is anxiety around worker availability and whether or not a scarcity of qualified employees will forcibly drive up wages, which would affect profitability, bolster the chances of inflation — and probably lead to an interest rate hike.

"The solid news on the job market is one argument to allow the Federal Reserve to stick to its forecast for two interest rate hikes in 2019 despite low inflation," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. "We'll need to see whether business and consumer confidence holds up, or not, in the coming months amid the headwinds including U.S./China trade and slowing global growth."

Markets have been on a roller-coaster ride so far in 2019, with the Dow falling by 660 points on Thursday after tech giant Apple slashed its guidance for the last quarter and a manufacturing survey showed factory activity across America had fallen for the first time in two years.

All three major indexes were already trending upward on Friday morning after reports from Beijing that China and the U.S. would be restarting trade talks on Jan. 7. The world's two largest economies are currently locked in a tit-for-tat trade battle that has rocked global markets for months and stoked fears of an impending global economic slowdown.