U.S. employers cut far fewer jobs than expected last month in the best showing for the labor market since the recession began, lifting the beleaguered U.S. dollar as investors bet a sustainable recovery was building.
The economy shed only 11,000 jobs in November, well below the 130,000 loss financial markets had braced for, while the unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped to 10 percent from October's 10.2 percent, government data showed on Friday.
The data from the Labor Department signaled a broad-based improvement in the job market. In addition, job losses in September and October were revised down by a total of 159,000, contributing to the report's strong tenor.
It suggests that the labor market is much closer to its trough and more synchronized with broader measures of economic growth, said Brian Fabbri, chief North America economist at BNP Paribas in New York.
Traders speculated the data could lead the Federal Reserve, which next meets on December 15-16, to raise interest rates sooner than had been thought.
That sent the dollar soaring and pushed down prices for U.S. government debt. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar posted its biggest gain in nearly a year. <.DXY>
U.S. and European stocks jumped on the data. But the U.S. market later retreated slightly. The three major U.S. stock indexes ended higher, but off the 15-month highs hit earlier in the day, as investors began to fret over the potential dampening impact of higher rates. <.N>
The economy is lifting at a much greater rate than expected, said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo/Mitsubishi UFJ in New York.
A separate report on factory orders for October showed a higher-than-expected 0.6 percent rise and the first gain in inventories in more than a year. Still, a subset of the data seen as a proxy for business investment retreated 3.4 percent.
HELP FOR OBAMA
While the jobless rate edged down, high unemployment remains a political headache for President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats, who are worried they will lose seats in Congress in next November's elections without a faster recovery.
Speaking in Pennsylvania, Obama described the data as good news and a sign that better days are ahead.
But he emphasized that there is more work to do.
We still have a long way to go. I still consider one job lost, one job too many. The journey from here will not be without setbacks or struggle. There will be more bumps in the road. But the direction is clear, Obama said.
On Thursday, Obama had appealed to the corporate sector to join in the administration's employment-creation efforts, and the White House said on Friday the president would use a speech next week to discuss tapping the government's $700 billion financial rescue fund to spur job creation.
Republicans have warned against using the Troubled Asset Relief Program as a political slush fund and have hammered the administration for steep job losses.
Any decrease in the unemployment rate is encouraging, but a jobless recovery and double-digit unemployment is not what the American people were promised, House Republican leader John Boehner said.
SUSTAINABLE RECOVERY HOPES
While the economy resumed growth in the third quarter after four straight quarters of decline, government stimulus fueled the growth and economists have worried a weak labor market would keep the recovery from becoming self-sustaining.
The data point to a transition in the economy from a deep recession to a modest recovery, said William Sullivan, chief economist at JVB Financial Group in Boca Raton, Florida.
This will encourage the Fed to be more vocal about an exit strategy from their highly accommodative posture, he said.
The Fed cut interest rates close to zero last December and has pumped more than $1 trillion into the economy to try to spur recovery from the worst recession in 70 years.
A Reuters survey on Friday showed firms that deal directly with the U.S. central bank believe the Fed will probably not raise interest rates until late 2010 or beyond, waiting for conclusive evidence the economy was on solid recovery path.
Since December 2007 when the recession began, 7.2 million jobs have been lost, the Labor Department said. But the pace of layoffs has slowed sharply from early this year.
The November data was the strongest since December 2007, when non-farm payrolls increased by 120,000.
The government added jobs for a second straight month, and payrolls grew in education and health services, as well as professional services. All told, the service-providing sector added 58,000 workers, up sharply from an addition of just 2,000 jobs in October.
At the same time, job losses in the goods-producing side of the economy slowed.
Manufacturing payrolls fell by 41,000 after dropping 51,000 in October, and the construction sector shed 27,000 jobs, a sharp easing from the average 63,000 decline in the previous six months.
A rise in temporary hiring and an increase in the length of the average workweek offered a suggestion that companies may start to hire permanent staff not too far down the road.
However, there were weak points. About 5.9 million Americans had been out of work for more than 27 weeks last month, representing 38.3 percent of the total unemployed.
In addition, the average duration of unemployment touched a record 28.5 weeks.
For a graphic on the U.S. jobs and unemployment data click on: http://link.reuters.com/vyk25g
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan, Lisa Lambert and John Parry; Editing by Jan Paschal)