Wall Street to open higher as wage data allays inflation fears

A worker unloads groceries in Washington, DC, in this Oct 6, 2014, file photo.
A worker unloads groceries in Washington, DC, in this Oct 6, 2014, file photo.PHOTO: AFP

(REUTERS) - Wall Street was set to open higher on Friday after payrolls data showed strong job additions in February, but a slowdown in wage growth pointed to a gradual rise in inflation, tempering expectations of faster interest rate increases.

Non-farm payrolls jumped by 313,000 jobs last month, boosted by the largest gain in construction jobs since 2007, recording its biggest increase in more than 1½ year, the Labor Department said.

Average hourly earnings edged up four cents, or 0.1 per cent, to US$26.75 (S$35.18) in February, a slowdown from the 0.3 per cent rise in January. That lowered the year-on-year increase in average hourly earnings to 2.6 per cent from 2.8 per cent in January.

"The great news is the labour participation rate went up, the headlines number are great, and the average hourly earnings has settled back down into consensus," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.

"It's a great report across the board and I think that moves markets higher."

Strong jobs data last month fuelled speculation that higher wages could lead to faster interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve and make borrowing expensive, rattling global equities market.

However, the slow wage growth in February could temper expectations that the Fed will change its rate forecast to four hikes this year from three.

"Stocks were higher, yields were up. The dollar ticked up a little bit. Gold was down. The reaction from the market was a very constructive one," said Sameer Samana, global equity and technical strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute In St. Louis.

By 8.47 am ET, Dow were up 151 points, or 0.61 per cent, S&P 500 e-minis were up 13.5 points, or 0.49 per cent. Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 45.75 points, or 0.66 per cent.

US Treasury yields hit session peaks after the data, although the rise could be limited by slowing wage inflation.

Signs of a potential breakthrough in nuclear tensions in the Korean peninsula boosted sentiment, with world markets hitting one-week highs on Friday.

US markets closed higher on Thursday after President Donald Trump appeared to soften his stance on heavy import tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Worries that the tariffs on steel and aluminum could ignite a global trade war had roiled markets since last Thursday, with the exit of chief economic adviser Gary Cohn intensifying the concerns.

Among premarket movers, discount retailer Big Lots slid 9 per cent after posting a surprise drop in same-store sales and forecasting a weak profit for the current quarter and the full year.

Shares of toymakers Hasbro and Mattel were lower after sources told Reuters that retailer Toys 'R' Us is preparing for a potential liquidation.

Tesla fell 1.2 per cent, following the exit of Chief Accounting Officer Eric Branderiz and a Morgan Stanley note on rising competition.