(Reuters) – U.S. employers hired workers at the fastest clip in more than two years in April, pointing to a rebound in economic growth after a dreadful winter and keeping the Federal Reserve on track to end bond purchases this year.
The brightening outlook was, however, tempered somewhat by a sharp increase in the number of people dropping out of the labor force, which pushed the unemployment rate to a 5-1/2-year low of 6.3 percent. Wage growth also was stagnant.
Nonfarm payrolls surged 288,000 last month, the Labor Department said on Friday. That was largest gain since January 2012 and beat economists’ expectations for only a 210,000 rise.
“It lends significant legitimacy to the positive tone in the wide array of post-February economic reports, which have all been consistently pointing to a significant pick-up in economic growth momentum this quarter,” said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.
March and February’s data was revised to show 36,000 more jobs than previously reported.
U.S. stocks briefly rallied on the report, which was later eclipsed by rising tensions in Ukraine. Stocks ended lower, while safe-haven bids pushed the yield in the 30-year U.S. government bond to its lowest level in more than 10 months.
The dollar was flat against a basket of currencies.
About 806,000 people dropped out of the labor force in April, unwinding the previous months’ gains. That helped to push down the unemployment rate 0.4 percentage point to its lowest level since in September 2008.
The labor force participation rate, or the share of working-age Americans who are employed or unemployed but looking for a job, also fell four-tenths of a percentage point to 62.8 percent last month, slipping back to a 36-year low touched in December.
Overall, however, the data suggested the economy was gathering strength and led investors to pull forward their bets on when the Fed will start to raise interest rates.
The strong payrolls growth added to upbeat data such as consumer spending and industrial production in suggesting that sputtering growth in the first quarter was an aberration, weighed down by an unusually cold and disruptive winter.