OVERNIGHT MONEY: Three in a row?

FRIDAY'S BIG STORY: 

It’s job numbers day again — and chances are that the third time won’t be the charm when it comes to the Labor Department’s latest figures.

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Analysts predict that the economy added between 130,000 and 140,000 in February, with perhaps a slight drop in the unemployment rate, to 6.5 percent from 6.6 percent. That comes after underwhelming jobs reports in December and January.

Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, said he wouldn’t be surprised if that figure was actually too optimistic, and that a string of bad weather could actually push the numbers down to somewhere between 100,000 to 110,000.

Whether the persistent cold weather or other temporary factors sparked the slowdown — from an average of about 200,000 jobs a month through most of last year to less than 100,000 a month since December — might not be known until later this spring. 

ADP, which produces a monthly employment report that Zandi helps compile, said Wednesday that private-sector employers added 139,000 jobs in February. The payroll processing company also revised January's figures down to 127,000, from the 175,000 initially reported.

On the brighter side, the government reported that new claims for jobless benefits fell to 323,000, the lowest level in three months.

Besides the weather — and some analysts question how much the cold spell is really a factor — Zandi said that the reduction in food stamps and unemployment benefits programs also are playing a role in slowing consumer spending and jobs growth. 

Zandi said that underlying jobs growth is still running about 200,000 a month and should pick up pace soon. Plus, he noted the ever-rising stock market as a signal that the economy is just going through a rough patch, and a jolt in small-business hiring.

"We should see a snap back from the weather effects," Zandi said. "There is a lot of uncertainty. But it will start to get better and will become clearer as we move into March then April, May and June."

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve also cited severe weather as a culprit in holding back economic growth during the early part of the year, as has the central bank’s chairwoman, Janet Yellen.

The Fed’s Beige Book showed that eight of the 12 regions reported “modest to moderate” improving activity, though areas hit hard by waves of winter storms this year reported a slow-down in hiring and other activity, such as home sales, consumer spending, retail sales and manufacturing. 

 

BREAKING THURSDAY:

All eyes on Ukraine: President Obama on Thursday announced new sanctions against Russia, seeking to potentially freeze the assets of those playing a role in the move against Crimea, The Hill's Justin Sink and Russell Berman report.

On the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, the House — over the opposition of fewer than two dozen Republicans — approved a measure to guarantee loans to Ukraine, an initial step in Congress’s efforts to help the embattled country.

All eyes on Issa: Lois Lerner, a key figure in the IRS investigation, came back to Capitol Hill and took the Fifth once more on Wednesday.

A day later, to the GOP’s chagrin, the attention was more on how Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) cut off Rep. Elijah Cummings’s (D-Md.) microphone.

After footage of that got heavy play on television news, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday that he was in Issa’s corner.

And the verdict is ... : Sequestration caused some tough times for federal agencies.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office on Thursday said that the $80 billion in across-the-board budget cuts caused 19 agencies to cut hiring, 16 to delay or change contracts and seven to report furloughing more than 770,000 employees.

The GAO also said that its report was incomplete and recommended that the Office of Management and Budget collect and publish more details on how agencies implemented the cuts. Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the top Democrat at House Appropriations, said the report should serve as a warning to Congress.

“Congress’ initial failure to replace sequestration with a balanced plan for deficit reduction — compounded by a pointless government shutdown — resulted in damaging delays and reductions of grants and vouchers for organizations serving vital functions in our communities,” she said. “We must never repeat this utter failure of fiscal responsibility and good governance.”

TAA time?: House Democrats are moving to put the focus on expanding benefits for workers who can show they lost jobs due to increased trade.

An expanded version of the benefits, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, expired in January, and the program has become a pawn in negotiations over whether to renew presidential trade agreement negotiating authority.

Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means panel, unveiled a standalone TAA bill on Thursday, along with Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). The bill would restore benefits to service workers and firms, and make workers who lost jobs to China trade eligible.

With Democratic resistance to fast-track negotiating authority, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the fate of TAA remains cloudy at best. 

 

WHAT ELSE WE’RE WATCHING: 

Presidential daybook: Perhaps not coincidentally, the president and his wife, Michelle, will spend this jobs report Friday in Florida, for an event on building the middle class.

Speaking of jobs: Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) will brief reporters at noon about a new standard for jobs reporting.

Speaking of trade: The Cato Institute takes a deeper look at the Obama administration’s stalled trade agenda. 

 

(OTHER) ECONOMIC INDICATORS: 

Trade Balance: The Commerce Department releases its January data on exports and imports of U.S. goods and services. 

Consumer Credit: The Federal Reserve releases its January measure of consumer debt. 

 

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED:

— GOP rips Lerner for talking to feds.

— Democrats says CFTC's low budget 'sucks.'

— But CFTC nominees on track for confirmation.

— Congress coming to grips with defense cuts.

Catch us on Twitter: @VickoftheHill, @peteschroeder, @elwasson and @berniebecker3 

For tips and feedback email vneedham@thehill.com