Jobs Report: Warm Winter May Boost February Number
CNBC Executive News Editor
About 210,000 jobs were likely created in the U.S. in February, but some of those may be the beneficiaries of a warm winter.
Economists expect to see a third month of 200,000 plus job growth, breaking the streak of extremely sluggish growth that characterized 2011.
The unemployment rate is expected to stay at 8.3 percent when the government employment report is released Friday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.
"Ten to 20 percent of the gains we're seeing through the winter were weather related," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial.
She said the weather likely resulted in gains in construction in February and retail, as a result of spring apparel sales. Gains in manufacturing, which had been a leader in job growth, could start to slow down.
Swonk expects to see a total 220,000 jobs created, with 230,000 in the private sector.
"It's better but it's still not good enough," she said, adding the warm weather hiring could result in a give back in future months. "I'm expecting employment to slow down as we move into the summer," she said.
One area of concern for economists is the potential hit from high energy prices on the economy. The warm winter has benefited consumers, by reducing heating bills, but some of those gains were offset by a quick jump in gasoline prices.
"It's certainly much different than in 2008, when both gasoline and natural gas were moving higher," she said.
Natural gas prices are at a decade low, as a result of the boom in shale gas drilling. The industry has been credited with adding hundreds of thousands of jobs, both directly and in support jobs.
J.P. Morgan economist Michael Feroli said , however, when analyzing those jobs, data shows the industry directly added about 6,000 per month for the past two years, after a steep decline during the recession. Feroli's expectations for February's employment report is for a total 220,000 nonfarm payrolls, with 235,000 added in the private sector.
As for the employment rate, he says it could slip to 8.2 percent. "It will be similar to last month. It looks like manufacturing is still doing well, and then I think private services should probably continue adding jobs," he said
Feroli said the energy industry itself is not especially labor intensive but it can create a ripple effect, generating related jobs. The industry also creates jobs when it begins production, and it has been a steady provider of jobs recently..
Shell Oil CEO Peter Voser said his company will begin drilling the North Slope of Alaska this summer and the resulting job creation should be significant.
"We have calculated that and over the lifecycle of that project, we could generate 50,000 jobs in the U.S., not just in Alaska, but across the U.S. And we will generate a few tens of billions of revenues for the country which can be reinvested in the economy afterwards," Voser told CNBC's Sharon Epperson in an interview.
It's clear the energy industry is making an impact in regions where it is active. According to Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher, the level of employment in Texas is now above its prerecession peak, and the same is true of just two other states — Alaska and North Dakota, both energy producing states.
At the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston this week, where Fisher and Voser both spoke, energy executives said they were hiring, but some of it is an part of an ongoing process. For instance, Timothy Brown, director of communications at Alstom, a power generation company, said his firm has 600 positions open in the U.S. for engineers.
"People who are in demand are in demand in any economy," he said. The company employs 6,500 in the U.S. and 95,000 globally.
Cheap natural gas is also making an impact, beyond the drilling areas.
Celanese is adding 70 jobs at a facility in Clear Lake, Texas, where it expects to use a new process called TCX, using natural gas and other feed stocks to create ethanol. Celanese President Steve Sterin said if legislation is passed to allow other materials, beyond corn, to be used in ethanol, he would quickly look to construct a plant that would provide construction jobs for several years and jobs for a permanent work force of several hundred..
Sterin said his company is close to an agreement to build another facility using the technology in China.
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