Markets dive again as US jobs recovery grinds to a standstill


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The Independent Online

Dismal jobs data in the US and new anxieties over the eurozone crisis sent markets on both sides of the Atlantic tumbling again yesterday.

Non-farm payroll figures from the Department of Labor showed that the US economy added no net new jobs at all in August, bringing 10 consecutive months of rising employment figures to a halt. Though private payrolls increased by 17,000 last month, this was cancelled out by a 17,000 fall in government employment. Analysts had been expecting the economy to create around 75,000 new jobs.

In a further blow, the official figures for the past two months of job creation were revised down. The US Labor Department says that in July 85,000 jobs were created, down from 117,000, while the new jobs figure June was lowered from 46,000 to 20,000.

The weak employment figures were attributed to firms holding back on hiring in the face of weak consumer and business confidence. The number of people in the US forced to work part-time because they were unable to find full-time employment also rose by 400,000 to 8.8 million in August.

Barack Obama will deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress next Thursday, in which the US President will outline how his administration will attempt to boost growth and create jobs for the 14 million unemployed Americans.

This is expected to include calls for a tax cut for middle-class Americans and an increase in infrastructure investment. But attention will also focus on US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who hinted last week at the Jackson Hole symposium for central bankers that he would be prepared to engage in more monetary stimulus to support the economy if necessary.

The Federal Reserve will discuss the possible reintroduction of quantitative easing at its next meeting later this month.

Global stock markets fell yesterday in response to the figures. The Dow Jones was down nearly 2 per cent in afternoon trade at 11,310. In Europe, the FTSE 100 Index closed down 2.3 per cent at 5292, while the benchmark German Dax shed 3.4 per cent. There was a flight into perceived safe-haven assets. The yield on 10-year US Treasury bonds fell to 2.05 per cent and gold rose to $1,876 (£1,157) an ounce.

International financial markets also continue to be unnerved by the ongoing eurozone crisis. Talks between the Greek government and a delegation of international officials were suspended yesterday after a dispute over the country's deficit reduction schedule.

Representatives from the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank left Athens earlier than expected after a disagreement over whether Greece needs to make additional budget cuts to hit its targets. The Greek government now says its economy will shrink between 4.5 per cent and 5.3 per cent in 2011, from a previously forecast 3.9 per cent.

The "troika" of officials will return to Athens in nine days when the Greek government has been told to have a draft of its 2012 budget ready.

The indications of a synchronised global economic slowdown multiplied this week. A host of manufacturing sector surveys released on Thursday showed that activity at factories across the developed world either slowed or dropped last month.

The New York University economist, Nouriel Roubini, warned at a conference in Lake Como, Italy, yesterday that "there is a significant probability of a double-dip recession".