WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. businesses slowed their pace of hiring in March, a private survey found. The slowdown raises questions about how much of an impact falling oil prices, a stronger dollar and harsh winter weather have had on dampening economic growth.
Companies added a seasonally adjusted 189,000 jobs last month, payroll processor ADP said Wednesday. That's the first month of gains under 200,000 jobs in 13 months, and it's a decline from 214,000 jobs added in February.
"Job growth took a step back in March," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, which analyzed the survey data.
Falling oil prices would generally lead to greater consumer spending that fosters hiring. But so far, the ADP survey indicates that steady decline to below $50 a barrel — a more than 50 percent decline since June— has led to closed oil rigs, layoffs and fewer orders for pipeline and machinery. That has been coupled with the dollar rising in value against the euro and other currencies, making manufacturers products less competitively priced abroad and crushing multinationals.
The slowdown in hiring was largely concentrated among firms with more than 1,000 employees that would likely have a global footprint.
They added just 12,000 jobs last month, compared to 43,000 in February.
The construction, financial and trade and transportation sectors all reported adding jobs at a slower pace in March than February.
Manufacturers shed 1,000 jobs in March, which likely reflects the twin drags of falling oil prices and a stronger dollar.
The figures come just before Friday's government report, which economists forecast will show an increase of 250,000 jobs.
The ADP numbers cover only private businesses and sometimes diverge from the government's more comprehensive report, which includes government agencies.
Several economists say that the ADP survey can be an unreliable indicator of the government jobs report.
"ADP is far from infallible," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency economics.
Few economists responded to the March setback by changing their yearly forecasts, including Moody's Analytics' Zandi. He still expects consumer spending to rebound and the economy to add jobs at an average monthly pace of 250,000, or 3 million for the year. This would represent a solid improvement in the job market, although it would be less spectacular than the past four months when monthly gains averaged 321, 500 jobs.
A burst of hiring in the past year has lifted the number of Americans earning paychecks. Still, average hourly wages have risen at a sluggish 2 percent pace, possibly making many Americans hesitant to spend their savings from cheaper oil and gasoline.