U.S. worker productivity rose more than expected in the second quarter as hours increased at their fastest pace in 1-1/2 years, keeping labor costs under control.
The Labor Department said yesterday that nonfarm productivity, which measures hourly output per worker, increased at a 0.9 percent annualized rate in the April-June period. First-quarter productivity was revised to show it edging up at a 0.1 percent pace instead of being unchanged as previously reported.
Compared to the second quarter of 2016, productivity increased at a 1.2 percent rate, the strongest performance in two years. Economists had forecast productivity increasing at a 0.7 percent pace in the second quarter.
With productivity rising, unit labor costs, the price of labor per single unit of output, increased at only a 0.6 percent pace in the second quarter after jumping at a 5.4 percent rate in the January-March period. Compared to the second quarter of 2016, unit labor costs fell at a 0.2 percent rate, po
inting to muted inflation. Coming on the heels of a recent moderation in price pressures, the retreat in unit labor costs may worry Federal Reserve officials as they contemplate further monetary policy tightening.
Prices for U.S. Treasuries were higher in mid-morning trading while U.S. stocks were lower. The dollar gained against a basket of currencies. The government also revised productivity data going back to 2014, in line with recent revisions to gross domestic product figures. Those revisions showed productivity falling 0.1 percent in 2016, the first drop since 1982. Anemic productivity is bad news for President Donald Trump who has pledged to boost annual economic growth to 3.0 percent through tax cuts, infrastructure spending and a rollback of regulation.
Economists blame soft productivity on a shortage of workers as baby boomers retire as well as on the impact of rampant drug addiction in some parts of the country. A report on Tuesday showed job openings surging to a record 6.2 million in June. The International Monetary Fund in June cut its growth forecasts for the U.S. economy to 2.1 percent for both 2017 and 2018. The IMF said the Trump administration was unlikely to achieve its 3 percent growth goal over a sustained period, partly because the labor market is at full employment.