U.S. companies shed 742,000 jobs in March, payroll services company ADP said Wednesday, far more than forecasters had been expecting.
Although there have been signs lately that the deterioration in the economy might be slowing, the ADP report was the latest reminder that the nation remains mired in a deep and stubborn recession. The company reported more job losses for March than it had for any other month since it began tracking them in 2001.
The new data also bode poorly for the next report on the nation's unemployment rate, to be released Friday.
Employers have been forced to cut back production and slash jobs as consumers at home and abroad have hunkered down and demand has withered.
Other data out Wednesday from the Institute of Supply Management showed manufacturing activity contracting for the 14th straight month. However, the pace of the contraction slowed in March, which some economists took as a positive sign.
The institute's closely watched index of business activity rose slightly in March to 36.3 from 35.8 in February. Any reading above 50 indicates business is expanding, while anything below 50 indicates business is contracting.
Meanwhile, construction spending fell in February by 0.9% compared with January and 10% compared with February 2008, according to Commerce Department data released Wednesday.
Efforts by the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration to lure home buyers back to the market with low mortgage rates and a first-time buyers tax credit appear to be having some effect. Pending sales of previously occupied homes rose 2.1% in February compared with January, when pending home sales sank to a record low, the National Assn. of Realtors said Wednesday. Because pending home sales are based on signed contracts, they serve as a barometer of future sales.