Updated March 25 at 6:25am
The economy

Payroll gains cap best 6 months since 2006


WASHINGTON - Employers in the U.S. boosted payrolls more than forecast in February, capping the best six-month streak of job growth since 2006 and sending stocks higher.

The 227,000 increase followed a revised 284,000 gain in January that was bigger than first estimated, Labor Department figures showed Friday. The median projection of economists in a Bloomberg News survey called for a 210,000 rise. The jobless rate held at 8.3 percent, as 476,000 more workers sought employment.

More jobs are helping fuel the wage gains that drive consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy. The latest pickup in employment bolsters President Barack Obama’s bid for re-election, while it may not be enough to satisfy Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, who last week said the job market remains “far from normal” and repeated that borrowing costs will probably remain low through late 2014.

“The labor market has found its legs in the last few months, and it looks like there’s enough of a broad base that the momentum can be sustained,” said Julia Coronado, chief economist for North America at BNP Paribas in New York, who projected a 225,000 gain in payrolls. “This leaves the Fed in a bit of limbo, as it’s not strong enough to convince them that we’re about to accelerate to much stronger rates of economic growth.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.6 percent to 1,373.97 at 11:18 a.m. in New York. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note climbed to 2.04 percent from 2.01 percent late yesterday.

Trade deficit widens

A separate report today from the Commerce Department showed the trade deficit widened in January to the largest since October 2008 as imports rose to a record.

The gap increased 4.3 percent to $52.6 billion from a revised $50.4 billion in December. The median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a deficit of $49 billion in January. Exports of capital goods, as well as cars and automobile parts, climbed to a record.

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