Robust job growth and 4.7 percent unemployment cap first 50 days

CEOs share an inside look at why Trumps private meetings boost their confidence.

Carlos Barria—Reuters
President Donald Trump attends a listening session with CEOs of small and community banks at the White House on March 9.

NEW YORK — On Friday the U.S. government released robust jobs data in its monthly report that said nonfarm employers added 235,000 workers to their payrolls last month, with the unemployment rate dropping a tenth of a percentage point to 4.7 percent.U.S. employers hired workers at a robust pace in February, beating expectations, and wages grinded higher, which could give the Federal Reserve the green light to raise interest rates next week despite slowing economic growth. Fed Chair Janet Yellen signaled last week that the U.S. central bank would likely hike rates at its March 14-15 policy meeting.”The report seals the deal for a rate hike next week. The labor market is where the Fed wants it to be,” said Gus Faucher, deputy chief economist at PNC Financial in Pittsburgh.Job gains averaged 209,000 per month over the past three months, well above the 75,000 to 100,000 needed to keep up with growth in the working-age population.The report comes as economists say the country feeling the impact of confidence among employers as talk of deregulation and tax cuts circulate on Capitol Hill. Since taking office on Jan. 20, President Donald Trump has held at least nine meetings with groups of business leaders, including automakers, airlines, retailers and health insurers.In early morning or late-night tweets and in speeches, Trump has lambasted many of these companies for cost overruns, or high prices, or foreign manufacturing, often knocking down their share prices. But interviews with nearly a dozen executives who have taken part in these meetings or have been briefed on them reveal a Trump who is very different from his uncompromising and demanding @realDonaldTrump Twitter handle.When he meets the nation’s top chief executives in person, he is a mix of charm and cajoling. This Trump is flexible and inquisitive, a schmoozer who remembers birthdays and often lavishes praise on their companies, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity so they could freely discuss private meetings.This private side of Trump sheds light on why many CEOs have expressed confidence that the Republican president is good for business, despite his share-denting public attacks. As recently as Tuesday, Trump tweeted he was working on a system to increase competition in the health industry and lower drug pricing, sending pharma shares lower.In the White House meetings, Trump focuses much of his talk on cutting regulations, the sources said, underscoring one of his administration’s key priorities — getting rid of rules imposed by his predecessor Barack Obama. He typically asks which regulations are holding businesses back from adding new jobs and promises to resolve the issues, executives say.”He said one thing for the cameras and the door shuts and then it’s like kumbaya,” said one person who was briefed on a meeting between Trump and a group of CEOs.A former businessman, Trump runs his closed-door meetings as if they were a corporate board meeting, attendees said. In contrast to his doctrinaire tweets, he likes to seek input from everyone at the table, and compared to former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, conversations are less scripted.Because so little is known about how Trump interacts privately with CEOs, trade groups and company officials have begun to swap tips on how to approach their meetings with him.”There is this undercurrent of information sharing about what to expect, what to do,” said one trade group official who prepared CEOs for a recent meeting with Trump. He said he has gotten a flurry of calls from other industries next in line for a White House visit.Chief executives of Detroit’s top three automakers — General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler — were pleasantly surprised when they went to the White House for a breakfast with Trump on Jan. 24. Since his election, Trump has frequently attacked the car companies for building in Mexico and warned U.S. firms would no longer be able to move U.S. jobs abroad “without consequences.”When Trump entered the Roosevelt Room, he greeted GM CEO Mary Barra with a playful tap on the shoulder as he gently prodded her to add jobs in the United States and later pulled out her chair before the meeting started. Barra said in a speech last week that Trump “really listened” to the automakers.After Denise Morrison, chief executive of Campbell Soup , introduced herself in one of those meetings, Trump quickly responded: “Good soup.”At another, after Target CEO Brian Cornell spoke, Trump responded by pronouncing the name of the company as “Tar-Jay,” a common joke to make the retailer sound more fancy.At the end of most meetings, Trump leads CEOs into the Oval Office, showing off paintings, sculptures and the furniture. Then he takes a group photo behind the desk.”He becomes tour guide and brings them over to the Oval Office,” the same official said. “He’s very proud of the Oval Office.”