U.S. private employers added the most new workers in a year in December, well above economists' expectations and an indication that the pace of hiring remains solid despite some signals of slowing economic growth, a report by a payrolls processor showed on Wednesday.
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U.S. companies added 257,000 jobs in December, the ADP National Employment Report said, the largest gain since December 2014.
Economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast the report would show a gain of 192,000 jobs, with estimates ranging from 150,000 to 230,000. Private payroll gains in the month earlier were revised down to 211,000 from an originally reported 217,000 increase.
The report is jointly developed with Moody's Analytics. "Strong job growth shows no signs of abating," Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, said in a statement. "The only industry shedding jobs is energy. If this pace of job growth is sustained, which seems likely, the economy will be back to full employment by mid-year. This is a significant achievement, given that the last time the economy was at full employment was nearly a decade ago."
Services led the hiring surge, with 234,000 jobs created in the sector, up from 213,000 in November. Goods-producing companies added 23,000 workers after shedding 2,000 jobs in the previous month.
Small and large businesses showed strong gains. Employers with fewer than 50 workers hired 95,000 new people in December, while firms with 500 or more on their payrolls added 97,000. Mid-sized businesses added 65,000 people to their workforces.
The data had only a modest impact on U.S. financial markets, which had been jolted overnight by news that North Korea had claimed to have tested a miniaturized hydrogen bomb and by worries about the state of the Chinese economy, the world's second largest.
U.S. equity index futures remained under pressure, suggesting stock prices would open lower, and prices for U.S. Treasuries were solidly higher, although slightly off from the day's highs.
The ADP figures come ahead of the U.S. Labor Department's more comprehensive non-farm payrolls report on Friday, which includes both public and private-sector employment.
Economists polled by Reuters are looking for U.S. private payroll employment to have grown by 195,000 jobs in December, down from 197,000 the month before. Total non-farm employment is expected to be 200,000.
The unemployment rate is forecast to stay steady at 5.0 percent from the 5.0 percent recorded a month earlier.
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