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April 3, 2019 10:30 AM, EDT

US Firms Post Weakest Job Growth in 18 Months, ADP Says

Jobs Gabby Jones/Bloomberg News

U.S. companies added the fewest workers in March since late 2017 as construction and manufacturing cut jobs, according to a private report that signals potential weakness in employment ahead of the monthly Labor Department data April 5.

Private payrolls increased by 129,000, missing economist estimates, after an upwardly revised 197,000 gain in February, according to data released April 3 by the ADP Research Institute. Goods-producing jobs shrank for the first time since December 2016.

The downshift in hiring signals the labor market is taking a breather amid headwinds from slowing global growth, an unresolved trade battle, the waning effect of the tax cuts and a shrinking pool of job candidates. The figures may fuel some pessimism for the monthly jobs report, though economists project that the data will show payrolls bounced back from a weak reading to one more in line with recent trends.

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“The job market is weakening, with employment gains slowing significantly across most industries and company sizes,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc., said in a statement. Moody’s produces the figures with ADP. “Businesses are hiring cautiously as the economy is struggling with fading fiscal stimulus, the trade uncertainty, and the lagged impact of Fed tightening.”