Companies added fewer workers than projected in March, held back by limited hiring in construction, according to a private report based on payrolls.
The 158,000 increase in employment was the smallest since October and followed a revised 237,000 gain the prior month, figures from the Roseland, New Jersey-based ADP Research Institute showed today. The median forecast of 39 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 200,000 advance.
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"The job market continues to improve, but in fits and starts," Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics Inc., said in a statement. Moody's produces the figures with ADP.
Payrolls at construction companies stagnated last month as the boost from rebuilding efforts following superstorm Sandy faded, Zandi said. Concern over the impact of changes in health- care law may have also curbed hiring at companies with around 50 employees, he said.
Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from gains of 170,000 to 240,000. The prior month's figure was revised from a previously reported increase of 198,000.
Stock-index futures were little changed after the report, trimming earlier gains. The contract on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index maturing in June rose less than 0.1 percent to 1,564.5 at 8:34 a.m. in New York.
Goods-producing industries, which include manufacturers and construction companies, increased headcount by 7,000. Employment in construction was unchanged, while factories added 6,000 jobs.
Payrolls at service providers advanced by 151,000 in March.
Companies employing more than 499 workers added 47,000 jobs. Medium-sized businesses, with 50 to 499 employees, took on 37,000 and small companies increased payrolls by 74,000, the report showed.
ADP in October changed the method it had used to calculate its employment figures dating back to 2001. The report is now derived from a larger sample using a new methodology, and is released jointly with Moody's of West Chester, Pennsylvania.
The Labor Department may report on April 5 that overall hiring, which includes government jobs, climbed 198,000 last month after rising 236,000 in February, according to the Bloomberg survey median. The jobless rate held at 7.7 percent, economists predicted.
Companies such as grocery-store operator Supervalu Inc. are eliminating jobs in order to trim costs. The Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based business reported plans to cut 1,100 positions, or about 3.1 percent of the company's workforce, according to a March 26 statement.