BUSINESS

Gas prices may have peaked; strong job growth

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There are signs of hope for the economy: Experts say gas prices may have peaked for this summer, and businesses have boosted their payrolls by adding 268,000 jobs in April.

An early morning drop in oil prices had Americans hoping a drop in gas prices was on the way. The price of a barrel of oil danced below the $100 mark and fell below it on Friday for the first time since mid-March.

Hours later, it was back up, and prices at the pump are steady at $3.98.  Still, experts say expect the price of gas to drop. By Memorial Day weekend we could see a gallon of gas cost $3.50.

"I hope so, I hope so, for me and everybody,” said Dorris Norris. On a fixed income, Norris said she'll watch prices, and in the meantime drive less.

$3.50 dollars a gallon by the official kick off weekend of summer may not be low enough for some.

Experts believe prices will drop everywhere because of concerns about the economy, the rise in the U.S. dollar, and an overall decline in gas consumption.

Businesses now hiring at fastest pace since 2006

The Associated Press reports that businesses delivered a jolt of strength to the economy by creating 268,000 jobs in April, the biggest monthly total in more than five years. The gains were solid across an array of industries, even beleaguered construction.

It was the third month in a row of at least 200,000 new jobs. The private sector has added jobs for 14 consecutive months. Even a slight rise in the unemployment rate to 9 percent appears to be a quirk.

The job growth was better than economists expected and perhaps the strongest sign yet that what they call a "virtuous cycle" has taken hold: When people spend more, corporate earnings rise, leading to more hiring and then more spending.

Companies have added more than 200,000 jobs for three months in a row.

"This was really a good report because ultimately it is all about jobs," said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. "More and more, it is looking as if the recovery is on track despite the headwinds it is facing."

Gas price may have peaked

Those include higher prices for crude oil and gas. But energy prices fell sharply earlier this week, apparently reflecting lower consumption in the United States and a stronger dollar. Analysts think the price of gas may have peaked for the summer at about $4 a gallon.

The rise in the unemployment rate, to 9 percent in April from 8.8 percent the month, was the first increase since November. But it appeared to be because of a temporary disparity in two surveys the government uses to track jobs.

Wall Street was pleased by Friday's report from the Labor Department. The Dow Jones industrials rose more than 150 points shortly after the opening bell. The Dow closed up 55 points, or 0.4 percent.

Businesses added jobs in April across the economy. Retailers, factories, financial companies, education, health care and the construction industry all reported gains.

And the government said the job gains it reported for March and February turned out to be even stronger than previously thought. Private employers have now added jobs for 14 straight months.

Government cuts jobs, but overall job numbers point up

Once again, governments at the federal, state and local levels all cut jobs - 24,000 in April. Counting those cuts, the economy as a whole added 244,000 jobs last month. The private-sector job gains were the most since February 2006.

"It is a sigh of relief: Economic momentum has not been lost," said Sung Won Sohn, economist at California State University. He said he was surprised that energy prices hadn't scared businesses away from hiring more.

The job gains of the past three months, which average 233,000 for the government and private sector combined, show "good momentum that should allow the economy to absorb the twin shocks from the Middle East and Japan without too much damage," said Nigel Gault, an economist at HIS Global Insight.

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